I Spent 24 Hours Freezing my Naked Ass Off at a Naturist Club in Pōneke

It turns out naturists do in fact wear clothes when it’s cold. They’re not idiots. Just me.
woman in hot tub

Let's get this out of the way upfront, I was undeniably born with a built in desire to get my tits out. 

I didn't inherit a lot from my forefathers – other than terrible English teeth – but one quality that did trickle down to me was my Grandma's utter shamelessness when it came to her body. Even though my own family has manifested an environment of glorious British prudishness, this urge to be unclothed as much as possible has long simmered. 


Group baths, asshole-out sunbathing and drunken toplessness are all standard territory in my circle of friends – but there was always one nude goal I’d yet to fulfil: To join a nudist colony. Even though throughout the reporting of this story, I discovered that it’s not called “a nudist colony.” So, apologies.

Dipping my toe in naturism, the actual term used by the community, is something I was ready to make happen – and with one quick google I found out there was a naturist club 35 minutes from my front door in God’s land, Upper Hutt.  

As it turns out, Aotearoa is plentiful when it comes to safe naked spaces, tucked away in Taranaki, Dunedin, Taupo, Tāmaki Makaurau, Nelson, and a bunch of places in-between. You’ll sometimes see them referred to as Sun Clubs – something that immediately makes me think of Shailene Woodley sunning her pussy, a mythical image perpetuated by HBO’s Girls that has been imprinted on me for life. 

So, a short history: It’s been documented that naturist organisations and Sun Clubs have been around in Aotearoa as early as the 1930s. Despite the clubs drawing many members all over the country, most people back then thought it was pretty weird. And most people still do. History lesson over. I did say it would be short. 

But why is it that people are so at odds with the idea of naturism? By my observation, a lot of people don’t really know what it is, and tiresomely still associate nudity with perversion, indecency and that pesky sex thing like it’s the 1950s.


But the reality of your average naturist club is far from some steamy swingers night. You won’t find your grandad in PVC fetishwear and nipple clamps. The gist is non-sexual, social nudity – a place where people are comfortable to be naked without judgement or objectification. The fucking dream. 

After a quick phone call with the Vice-President of the Upper Hutt club, who filled us in on some basic rules, my boyfriend and I were booked into a cabin and ready to make our official naturist debut. 

Here’s how it went. 

Our first mistake was clear only moments after passing through the password-protected gate. Having been told the Club wasn’t clothing optional (i.e, nudity is expected) and overly concerned at the thought of offending the regular members, we’d prepped ourselves to be naked on arrival by driving through the Hutt in silky dressing gowns, sans clothes. 

Despite the 14 degree weather, I slipped off my last bit of coverage as we drove up the long driveway to the Club – keeping it at a good distance from the suburban street it’s nestled in. 

At the top were two fully dressed adults in jeans and jumpers. 

In a state of total panic, questioning whether I’d totally misunderstood what naturism was, I pulled my robe over my nips and smiled like I was Mia Goth in Pearl. Once out of the car we were filled in by the Club's custodians, who had greeted us, that no one’s gonna force you to wear nothing… if the weather’s bad. 


We got one hell of a laugh when the story of our nude arrival was shared with the 15 or so very clothed members hanging out in the lounge. 

So, it turns out naturists do, in fact, wear clothes when it’s cold. They’re not idiots. Just me. 


So, naked, or sometimes not naked, people aside – what else is there to see and do at a naturist club? Turns out, a lot. 

We’re talking swimming pool, sauna, spa, hot pool, tennis court, spacious grounds with bush tracks and most importantly, a bar. It’s a rare establishment in this fuckin’ economy that you’ll find wine at only $18 a bottle, so we made sure to take advantage. 

And you’re not limited to what's available onsite. With the $80 a night cabin providing a fridge, kettle and microwave (as well as there being a shared kitchen), you can bring in whatever food and drink you like. Outside of the rented cabins, available to the public, many of the members have permanently planted caravans set up on site – creating a kind of perpetual holiday feel.   

The whole place very much exudes the energy of an 1980s to early 2000s summer camping spot, with an almost church-like wooden events hall adorned in hanging flags and trestle tables, and a lounge/bar featuring every brown fuzzy couch your nana has owned in the last 50 years.   

And no wholesome holiday park is complete without a dark and spider-inhabited activity shed – we immediately took to the previously unheard of game, “miniten” (tennis with clunky wooden bats affixed to your wrist), but the game was cut short when I slipped on the slightly wet ground and slid butt-naked through the abundant mud. For a moment I wished I’d been wearing clothes, but was reminded by my ever-insightful bf, then I would’ve ruined my clothes… Clothes: 0, naturism: 1. 



There were a few things we picked up on that any wannabe naturist would want to know. Not freezing your clit/nips/balls off was the first lesson. Basically you can wear what you want, given that nudity is always the goal when possible. Many of the members were rocking the Winnie the Pooh look, so they could both keep warm and let the goods breathe. 

Next, hygiene towels. It may seem obvious now, but the hygiene stakes of constant nudity, given that everyone shares couches, barstools and picnic benches, hadn’t crossed my mind. The simple solution is that everyone carries around a little towel to sit on, which also adds to the day spa vibes.   

There are a few more serious rules to keep in mind: no phones and no photos. And I can’t lie, I was pretty gutted, as I went with the hopes of heavily documenting my experience in pictures. But it’s all about protecting people's privacy, which is pretty hard to argue with. I was a bit baffled that sunglasses were also on the no-go list, given that the actual sun is such a significant part of the naturist experience, but this rule is also in place to waive people's concerns about throwing fanny to the wind. With eyes fully visible there’s no need to be self conscious that someone might be staring bug-eyed at your nooks and/or crannies. 

My boyfriend's biggest fear was the potential for an unprompted (or perhaps somewhat prompted, given the surroundings) boner. And don’t get me wrong, the wholesome environment didn’t totally quell his swirling concerns about an erection. Because it did happen. Several times. We never found out what the public reaction would’ve been, though, because he hid every time he got slightly hard, insisting that everyone could tell he was bricked up because of the stark contrast to his previously not-erect penis, which was somewhat obviously battling the 14 degree weather.


It was clear pretty quickly, as I was arranging our visit with the VP, that there’s an eagerness to separate naturism from the world of sex, fetish and swinging. Honestly, I wondered if the sexlessness was being somewhat pushed on us to make sure any “keys in the bowl” comparisons didn’t make their way into this article . But the entirely unsexualised environment that the club advertises felt like more than just a principal, but an earnest intention, genuinely upheld by everyone we met. 

And this brings us to… 


There wasn’t a single conversation where I felt anyone chatted to us with anything other than the welcoming nature of family. Conversations with 70-year-old men who stood at specifically-my-tit height, felt delightful. Standing somewhat idiotically naked in a room of fully clothed members who were more focussed on staying warm than putting on a show, felt totally comfortable. 

Although, as we found out, they do fucking know how to put on a show. Sadly, we weren’t there on a weekend with an official event, but we were filled in on the raucous goings on of the Club parties. The main hall has hosted everything from a Rocky Horror night to a western Hoedown to live 80s rock – costumes included – and as the night goes on, the clothes come off again. This really got me thinking about how few people over 40 still have access to this kind of silly, carefree debauchery. Friend groups tend to shrink as we get older and many people give up on meeting new people at a certain point. Here, whatever your age and stage, joining the party is encouraged – and I loved the fact that there’s always something to look forward to. 


This welcoming, social spirit is a pretty key part of the club's outlook. After forgetting (in our naked panic) to bring any food and arriving meatless and buns-out to a group barbecue, we were rightfully ribbed for our inability to look out for ourselves, but without even asking we were offered burgers, salads and sausages from a bunch of cheer-y regulars. 

Dinner was our first real chance to chat with people about the big question, why come here? 

There were a few answers that popped up, with one woman sharing that most of her family is abroad, “so this is my family,” and another expressing how naturism helped her unlearn "all the misogynistic ideas you have associated with your body.” Other people spoke of the simple feeling of freedom, and several members attested to the regular full body exposure to the sun and air helping to clear skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. 

For a lot of the members, the answer is like any other small community: feeling like you’re not alone. With the club being founded in 1951 it has a long legacy, with some current members having been a part of it for 30 to 40 years. The core age group is definitely people in their 50s-70s, but there are families and a new generation getting involved (including a group of 20-something Burners we overlapped with). 

And this mix of members does lead to an interesting dynamic of significantly differing political views, sitting just beneath the surface. 


There’s a curious exchange of progressive and conservative views at play, with some of the members alluding to anti-vax and anti-gov sentiments (which is frequently associated with anti-labour voting). It feels in contrast to the liberalism at the heart of public nudity. But this dynamic is something we have seen in Aotearoa over the last few years – a full circle made by people who, 30 years ago, would’ve been considered the most leftie regenerative farming, kombucha brewing hippies, as they skew so far left over time that their values almost become conservative again.  

But even with some clear differences in the members core values it didn’t seem to bother anyone. There was a general sense that whoever you are outside of the grounds – rich, poor, liberal, rightwing, old, young – didn’t matter there. The members want to bond over a less complicated goal: to simply not be judged. Not for their bodies, their views, their lifestyle. They just want to feel free. 

And I think, from our short time there, it seemed like it was a goal they’d achieved. It never felt like anyone was conscious of their nakedness… or of anything, really.  

My overall feeling at the end of the weekend was, why the hell wouldn’t you join a club with hot pools, lush grounds, weekly events, and raucous parties – even if you’re not a naturist. The perks really outweigh any negatives that might come from a group of 50-somethings seeing your pubes – you just have to get over being naked, and all the goods are yours. 

One of my favourite moments of the weekend happened when sharing the spa pool with another first-timer, lets call them Grace, and a man who asserted he was the Club’s first Māori member some 20 years ago, who had basically joined on that principal alone: It was a sick little setup, why wouldn’t you join? 

When I asked him why he liked it so much here, he leant back into the bubbles and chuckled, “It’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven.” 

To which Grace wistfully replied, “I never thought heaven would be in Upper Hutt.” 

Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.