So…. Africa seems like a good place to get naked!
Think about it. Europe is great in the summer. You might even get a few chances at naked autumn or spring in the South of France, Spain, or Italy. And if you’re really adventurous, you can find your way to the Canary Islands, which are essentially due west of the Sahara Desert.
But Africa!? A continent that straddles the equator. And until all the westerners showed up, they thought naked was the way to go. (“Thank you kind and thoughtful missionaries who taught us to pray and wear clothes – except for the wearing clothes part!“) Few issues with laundering clothes. Temperate climates much of the year. No bizarre religious convictions to make one ashamed of her breasts. From what I can gather, a loin cloth seemed like the perfect attire for any formal occasion back in the day.
Truth be told, once Western Europe finished cutting Africa into neatly packaged countries, it seems a bit ironic that about the only place one might consider going for social nudity is at the southern tip of the continent – South Africa. Ironic because this is a huge expanse of land where the Dutch (We LOVE public nudity!) and the Brits (Ahem… please don’t offend the Queen.) decided to fight it out with the indigenous people to lay claim to the natural resources that rest just beneath the soil there. Most know what came of all that, the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and perhaps even a bit about the chaos in the wake of what one friend refers to as “centuries of Social Engineering gone awry.” In layman’s terms, read any post about visiting Johannesburg on Trip Advisor, and it will likely lead out with the words “Be careful!” Good advice.
As it turns out, there are several naturist places dotted about the country of South Africa – seemingly the only country on the continent that recognizes social nudity in any organized sort of way. I/we have visited two. My wife and I spent a week at Harmony Nature Farm back in 2013 (Literally, the week that Nelson Mandela died), then I recently made a quick trip that accommodated a weekend visit to Sun Eden Resort just east of Pretoria, then a return visit to Harmony Nature Farm to visit some of the friends we had made there years ago.
In the middle of summer – January on this part of the planet – the weather was literally postcard perfect for a naturist outing. Days were warm and sunny with low humidity, and evenings remained naked friendly without being oppressively hot! I rented a car at the Johannesburg airport, plugged Sun Eden Family Naturist Resort into Google Maps on my phone (couldn’t find it on Apple Maps), then sped off on the well maintained motorway to the north, past Pretoria and off to the designated exit. So far, so good!
What I didn’t expect, however, was once having left the motorway, I took a hard right into the African bush, only 18 kilometers to go according to Mr. Google, which created the illusion I would be at my destination in a matter of minutes. That idea vaporized just a few hundred meters later where the asphalt ended, and the well maintained, but bumpy, dirt road started chopping away at the suspension system of my little rented car. Signage? None. Other humans? Occasionally a Toyota Forerunner would speed by. Civilization? A few remnants of something that might have once been a market or restaurant, and a gate now and again that seemed to lead to someone’s cattle ranch tucked just over that rise in the distance.
But sure enough, after about fifteen kilometers of trying to avoid the potholes that would blow out my tires, there was a right turn, then a short distance later, a sign appeared on a small road named “First Street,” (Indeed it was!) which took me to the gate of Sun Eden Resort.
Having not been to a naturist camp or resort in Great Britain, I can only speculate this would be quite similar. A nice pool complex with a bar and a little store, several trailers (caravans) and small houses scattered about, many of which could be rented, and a few large attractive homes that would dwarf some of the McMansions I’m accustomed to in the eastern United States. Spread out over about fifty acres, nothing seemed crowded, and even walking the fenced perimeter road seemed completely viable given the few signs of life outside of the resort – other than impalas and other wandering creatures of the landscape. (I was warned to watch out for the snakes, which I did, but I never ended up meeting one.)
While one could certainly rent a cottage or home here for the entire “summer,” this is most definitely a weekend destination. I didn’t arrive until Saturday around noon, by which time there was plenty of conviviality around the pool and the bar. For those who frequent some of the more traditional nudist places in the US, the entry process felt very familiar, the long-timers running the front desk who provided a thorough introduction to the honor system in the camp store while making sure I knew the rules about sitting on a towel. “Got it!”
The weekend crowd was quite mixed though, with one or two families with small children, a good number of 30/40-somethings, and a few more folks in my current demographic of 50 and above. I earnestly enjoyed the music and banter in the bar on Saturday night where the bartender was pouring some purply shots that tasted a little like medicine I had to take as a child. “NO! One is enough! Really! Thank you.”
The store had a nice selection of meats (but essentially nothing green, I might mention) and all the supplies one needs like charcoal and fire-starters, which made for two very pleasant “braai meals” outside my little cottage. Turns out my meal plan was particularly fortuitous as come 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, the party vaporized into their cars and disappeared down that long dirt road back into their clothed existence. Walking around that evening, I found a few “residents” who would remain in the silent serenity of the expansive grounds, but even of those who remained, many had a tendency to get dressed. I used the opportunity to wander around for a while to snap a few photos, with a stop-off to chat with the owner of one of those nicer homes. He also runs a naturist travel agency based out of South Africa. He rents his place, and it was lovely. I suspect that will turn up in a future blog post, as I would be delighted to stay there.
On Monday morning, I packed up, settled my bill in the market, and headed off to see Piet and Piet (father and son) at Harmony Nature Farm. You can read a little more about our previous visit here in an earlier post, though I suspect I could write a whole book about this incredibly gorgeous stretch of land pressed against the African bluffs, once again scattered with caravans and – shall we say – less luxurious rental homes. We stayed a week in one of these little rustic cottages on our previous visit where the highlight included zebras begging at our door for food each morning, and being awoken early one morning when a baboon jumped from a tree onto the tin roof of our house. Startling, to say the least.
Once again, this is a weekend destination, and it seemed that I was the only guest on the grounds during this Monday lunchtime, though there were a few other residents meandering about, some clothed, some not.
It was good to see Piet and Piet again, the father/son duo who are “somehow making ends meet.” Piet senior had told me the story during my last visit of his European naturist experiences when he was young, and how he was eager to recreate such a place in South Africa. Compared to Sun Eden, the place is looking a bit tired, but when sitting at the Sunset Bar perched on a steep hill overlooking the rest of the continent, or when walking the grounds under a bright blue sky in and out of the shadows of the towering bluffs, it reminded me how amazingly beautiful this part of the world really is, and how amazingly special it is to be able to enjoy that in a clothes-free environment.
It is worth noting that both of the naturist places are located within a short distance of nature reserves where one can make a day-long safari with a remarkably high chance of seeing at least four of the Big Five. Didn’t bother with that this time, but it occurs to me that when we return to South Africa, which we undoubtedly will, I think I would spend a long weekend at Harmony Nature Farm, perhaps venture out during the week (Maybe even to neighboring Zambia to see Victoria Falls) then return for another long weekend at Sun Eden. Neither location is able to provide the amenities of one of the super resorts in France or Croatia, but then again, the list of “nakation in January” spots is pretty limited. I can deal with a dose of rustic and a dash of quirky, knowing my driveway at home is coated in snow and ice, while here I have to wonder if I should bring along a t-shirt in case it gets chilly after the sun goes down.
Such is life in the naked African bush.