Ever since discovering the intoxicating summer climate of the South of France, which precipitated the insatiable desire to enjoy so many naturist opportunities there, I’ve had an obsession with finding alternate locations in the southern hemisphere where summer occupies the months when Europe and North America are frosty at best, if not outright freezing. How is it that with so much landmass crowded around the equator, where it’s perpetually 85 degrees Fahrenheit 365 days a year, that most of those continents are occupied by countries and cultures subject to some flavor of religious and philosophical doctrine that essentially makes public nudity all but impossible, if not a severely punishable offense? What’s a devout naturist to do? Even if you live in a region where saunas are common, you can’t stay in there sweating it out for six months!
To that end, I’m happy to report that after years of diligent and exhaustive research, we may well have identified a place where a laid back nakation in January is actually a viable thing, though it does require a bit of work to get there.
Sun Eden Naturist Resort near Pretoria is one of three places we’ve visited in South Africa where naked is the norm. I actually made a brief reconnaissance visit to this place in the midst of other travel about a year ago, (You can read about that here.) simply to see if this would be a suitable place for a more substantial naturist stay. (Translate: Will my wife be keen on this place?) For a sense of context, the first impression is not completely unlike visiting some of the “legacy nudist camps” in the US – those like Rock Lodge Club in New Jersey, Lupin in California, or even Lake Como in Florida. In fact, if you show up on a Wednesday afternoon (as we did) you will quickly discover this is largely a weekend retreat for locals from Pretoria and Johannesburg who have discovered the additive and addictive qualities of the naturist life, making a hasty retreat from city life each Friday evening for weekends with their naturist companions.
However, a couple things set this place apart from some of its US counterparts, beginning with the pool of rental accommodations that have been made available to local and international travelers like ourselves. Last year, I rented a tiny “chalet” – a very basic little house similar to the modest accommodations one might find at most American naturist places. That was fine for a brief stay, but fell a bit short in the amenities division. While walking the property a year ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Lofty and Amanda, two long-time owners who rent out their “Summer Place” for quite a reasonable price. Turns out that Lofty has held many important roles in South African naturist circles, runs a local naturist tourism business called Joxilox Tours, and to our good fortune, their rental has been folded in as one branch of that operation.
This year, we booked the Summer Place for several nights, coinciding with what appears to be a regularly recurring event – the Friday Evening Naturist Game Drive. Knowing that there is actually a substantial game reserve just a few kilometers away from Sun Eden, we weren’t quite sure what this game drive might entail, so we pulled on our shorts and shirts and found our way to the beloved, well-worn safari jeep where we would meet our driver and tour guide, Bert.
A truly affable guy with many interesting stories to tell, his first directive was to explain the dress code for our imminent explorations – NAKED! Our route would remain within the confines of Sun Eden, which turns out to be a significant expanse of land that stretches out over the South African Bushveld, perhaps over 200 acres or so. As it turns out, Bert used this opportunity to give that typically awkward “nudist camp orientation” that is so painfully uncomfortable at most American naturist places. In this case, we learned a bit about Kathy and Wally – the founders of Sun Eden – the twenty-five year evolution of the place, a bit about the ecology of building a self-sustaining naturist resort in the remote African bush, and of greatest intrigue, an introduction to the wildlife that resides there, including a significant herd of impalas and similar cousins from the antelope family, referred to by the locals under the umbrella term of bokkies, that were a constant source of entertainment during out stay.
There had been significant social events planned for the weekend before and the weekend after our visit, so even at the height of our time there, the crowd was small, and decidedly middle-agey, though during both my stays there have been families with young children on the grounds. Bert tells me that recent years have seen significant trends with more international visitors, especially from northern Europe, along with the ever-increasing presence of young urban professionals who seek to escape city life to explore this “new idea” of clothes free recreation. That seems hopeful.
Revisiting the lead-in to this post, I would reiterate that my passion for finding that perfect nakation destination when the days in North America are chilly and short, it seems that Sun Eden is a major contender for the adventurous naturist. Especially now that Club Orient in St. Maarten is out of the game, a visit to Hidden Beach in Mexico has a price-point similar to buying a car, and options in South America are scarce, lacking amenities, and frequently requiring a tolerance for unpredictable weather.
Days at Sun Eden were typically warm and dry, with relatively low humidity and pleasantly cool evenings. We did encounter a brief rainy spell during our stay with torrential downpours, but a few hours later the skies cleared and the vast African horizon fell back into place, infinite and alluring.
Perhaps it was the pleasantries of meeting and socializing with a few of the regulars this time, or simply finding our sea-legs a bit more confidently with South African travel during this, our third visit to the region. I’ve finally grown accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, (even with a stick shift!) and with a bit of advice from the locals, it seemed easy and safe to make our way from the Johannesburg airport out to this naturist respite in the bushveld. What’s more, we had the opportunity to survey a few more of the options for lodging on the grounds, ranging from simple studio apartments to expansive homes where the bokkies are likely to provide live entertainment as you sit next to the braii (BBQ) with a glass of South African wine on your naturist terrace embracing the sunset. From a more pragmatic perspective, there’s no question – it takes some doing to get there, but the dollar and euro are both quite strong against the South African Rand these days, so once you’re on the ground, you will enjoy good value for your money, whether renting a place to stay or venturing into Pretoria for a nice meal. Perhaps half of what you might expect to pay in Europe or the US.
Will this become our South of France surrogate as we scramble to avoid northeast winters yet unforeseen? We’ll see. There are other contenders that we are quite smitten with including a charming little inn in Uruguay and some of the spiffy new places in Thailand, (Check out my previous musings about Oriental Beach and Peace Blue). But I’m pretty sure we’ll be back to Sun Eden. After all, somebody’s gotta be there during the week to look after the bokkies.