General discussion / Nude

Nude Bushwalking: Going Bare to Nature

Earlier this year we were contacted by Victoria Ong, a young journalist in the final semester of a Master of Media Practice at Sydney University. She was keen to interview us about our nude bushwalking adventures. Below is a short explanation of what inspired her, a short radio piece she produced, and a longer feature article.

One Tuesday morning, my eyebrows raised at the subject of an email blast from the Sydney University Bushwalkers (SUBW). The subject? “Easy nude bushwalk, with yoga session on the banks of a remote wild river”.

What I initially thought was an email gimmick turned out to be firm reality. Next thing I knew, the journalist in me felt compelled to hear from the Fat Canyoners themselves about the appeal of nude bushwalking… which led to this series of fascinating interviews.

Nude Bushwalking: Going Bare to Nature

By Victoria Ong

Mention “nudists” to the Australian public and you’re likely to get bemused grins or a horrified cringe. In Sydney, a group of nude bushwalkers known as the “Fat Canyoners” strip off common misconceptions about nudism and reveal the appeal of going bare to nature.

Summer is the perfect time to go bushwalking in Australia. Minty whiffs of eucalyptus perk you up as you trudge along the trail, while golden rays of sunshine peek through the canopy of trees to warm every inch of your skin.

From a figure of speech, “every inch of your skin” immediately turns literal upon meeting the Fat Canyoners – a group of Sydney-based bushwalkers who venture bare- skinned into the great outdoors with nothing but their sunscreen on.

The man behind the Fat Canyoners is Tim Vollmer, a self-professed fanatical bushwalker, canyoner, and nature lover. But the 32-year-old is quick to assert that he did not come up with the idea of going nude in nature. Vollmer’s mane of chestnut curls bobs in excitement as he enthuses over the long history of nudism and bushwalking. He describes reading books about bushwalkers “from nearly a hundred years ago, full of stories about them getting to a river and going for a skinny dip”.

Skinny-dipping is one of Sierra Classen’s favourite parts of bushwalking. As a regular Fat Canyoner, the 23-year-old describes how relaxing the experience of swimming naked is for her. “The water feels really different on my skin when I’m nude, rather than in swimmers…” Her sentence trails off as a dreamy twinkle lights up her oak- brown eyes. “It’s kind of a sensory thing. You feel and remember the bushwalking experience in a different way.”

The sensory pleasure of feeling relaxed in nature is a key appeal for nudists, according to Sydney University academic Dr Ruth Barcan. Sunlight streams into her office through 19th century Victorian gothic windows, illuminating a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. On it sits a copy of Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy – the book she wrote about the historical and cultural practice of nudism. Dr Barcan explains that beyond sheer physical sensations, nudists also feel “a deep psychological relaxation from having given up all sorts of social strictures”.

One of the social strictures that nudists resist is “the cult of the body beautiful”, Dr Barcan says. Contrary to popular stereotypes that nudism is “about those who think they look good parading before others”, she says people would be surprised to discover most nudists are not what the mainstream would typically consider “body beautiful”. Instead, her research finds that nudists are “a huge mix of shapes and sizes”. She explains this is consistent with the nudist belief in the equality of diverse body types.

A diverse mix is just how Vollmer and Classen describe the Fat Canyoners. From first-year university students to older couples in their fifties, they can be “short or tall or thin or fat”, Vollmer says with a playful gesture towards his slight belly.

Classen adds that people new to nude bushwalking tend to be self-conscious about their body before the walk, but they usually stop worrying once the group undresses. She tilts her head of auburn curls contemplatively and says, “Everyone has different things about their body that they don’t like. Even the most attractive person will be like, ‘Ugh, my nose, I don’t like my nose. Or there’s a pimple on my butt’. After a while, these little things average out to be unimportant or you just stop noticing them.”

On the most recent walk Classen was one of three women out of 16 nude bushwalkers. She suggests the gender imbalance may be because women tend to have more concerns about not being “body beautiful”, and also whether men might be there to “perv” on them.

Dr Barcan says that the idea of nudists being perverts is another common misconception about nudism. “People automatically assume that nudism has a lot to do with sex, and probably psychological conditions like voyeurism and exhibitionism,” she says. She adds while there may be individuals who might fall into such categories, they are the exceptions and not the rule.

On the other hand, men who have never experienced nudist activities tend to be worried about being unintentionally aroused. Vollmer says, “I had a young guy ask me recently, ‘What happens if I get an erection, what do I do?’ I had to assure him that it’s never happened on nude bushwalks. And that’s because the vibe in the context of nude bushwalking is simply not a sexual vibe.” Classen agrees and describes the Fat Canyoners as “a group of people naked in a colloquial family sense”.

Vollmer believes that Aussies tend to see nudist activities and sex as “intertwined” due to the prevalence of pornography. “A lot of people think Australians are really relaxed, but I actually find most Australians are quite prudish and very uncomfortable with nudity. I think especially with a lot of younger people, they grow up bombarded with sexual images, no thanks to pornography,” he says. He laments the challenge to get people to understand that “there isn’t a causal link between nudity and sex”.

Considering the misconceptions that surround nudists, aren’t the Fat Canyoners concerned about being reported for public indecency? Despite their good intentions, they run the risk of being charged for “obscene exposure” in New South Wales under Section 5 of the Summary Offences Act 1988 if someone takes offense and reports them to the police.

Vollmer nods. He shares that legality is a constant concern, but navigates around this worry by planning nude bushwalks to remote places to avoid running into the masses. However, he says where they have run into people, “they’ve actually been pretty cool about it”.

A wide grin sweeps across Vollmer’s face as he recounts an incident where the Fat Canyoners ran into an older couple. “The woman had a big smile on her face and as the bloke walked past – in a kind of classic Australian way – he looked down and said, ‘I don’t know if I’d be showing off my dick if it was that small!’ Then he just chuckled and kept going.”

Some reactions have been a bit kinder to the ego. Classen shares another incident where “some people came by in a car, beeped their horns and gave us a queen’s wave”. She pauses for royal effect, sucks in her rosy sun-kissed cheeks, and delivers her best impersonation of a stately wave.

With beeps of support and queen’s waves coming from the masses, is mainstream Australia likely to strip off like the Fat Canyoners anytime soon? Dr Barcan says the nude bushwalkers shouldn’t expect to see a surge in new converts, as nudism continues to be a “profoundly paradoxical practice”.

“Nudism remains a practice that’s stigmatised, largely quite secret, takes place in specific locations, and horrifies some reasonable percentage of the mainstream. So in an old-fashioned sociological sense, nudism is a ‘deviant practice’, yet it’s a practice that’s based on a sincere belief in its own wholesomeness and in how good society would be if everybody practiced this as they did.”

Deviant practice to the mainstream; divine practice to the Fat Canyoners. Since nude bushwalking is likely to continue trekking the remote trail in Australia, do give the Fat Canyoners a queen’s wave if you ever spot them going bare to nature.

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8 thoughts on “Nude Bushwalking: Going Bare to Nature

  1. I said it before & I’ll say it again… we are going to have to be careful promoting this pastime!… If we make this pastime too popular the government will find a way to tax it! 😉

    Loved the article & interview audio, keep up the good work, hope to see you guys out in the bush one day when I’m out on one of my walks.

  2. Good article and good that it’s written by a woman. It might convince other women that inhibitions are shrugged off as soon as you’re on the trail and the sensation of everything the sun, wind, air and water can offer is not blocked by textile. Soon you will forget your naked and you have to remind yourself to put some clothes on when getting back to the not so fortunate.

    If anyone is coming to NZ in late January 2015 and would like to experience the same in NZ, join us at Ngatuhoa Naturally (see: homepages.paradise.net.nz/johngx/ngatuhoa). You can just come a few days or stay the whole week. Contact John to arrange.
    The more adventurous can join me in going no-trail nude hiking, mainly following the rivers/streams in the area, bush bashing, swimming through small canyons and scaling waterfalls/rapids.

  3. Hey mate

    My friend sent me the link to this page and thought I would be interested.
    I’m a ex penis puppeteer and current beach nudist and would be interested in the bushwalking aspect of nudism.

    Do you welcome newcomers to the bush walking.

    Cheers
    Ryan mcaleer

      • The newspaper probably archived it.

        I think it was this one (or pretty similar):

        Hiking nude: From Ngatuhoa lodge to Te Rere I Oturu
        Once a year, Ngatuhoa Naturally organizes a week’s stay at the Ngatuhoa Lodge, in the Lower Kaimai Ranges, for a group of independent naturists. Independent simply means that anyone can attend. Your dress code is up to you, as long as you accept that many of the people there enjoy being nude or partially nude, which is mainly dependent on the weather or an activity, like wearing socks and boots, and perhaps a shirt and sun hat, when you go hiking.
        One of the main events (for the hikers amongst us) is a day-hike to the Te Rere I Oturu waterfall. The website of the Ngatuhoa Lodge has a page with the history behind the name of the waterfall.
        The tracks leading to and from the waterfall are not particularly challenging, but it is recommended to discuss any concerns about injuries or illnesses before taking part.
        The Terereioturu Falls track starts at the Lodge and a swing bridge leads across the Ngatuhoa Stream followed by a steady climb uphill to reach the ‘plateau’, providing a relatively level track through native bush, where you will hear and (hopefully) see native birds like the Fantail, Tui, North Island Robin and most likely also the Longtail Cuckoo.
        The time of the year is perfect for hiking nude as it is still a very pleasant temperature even in the shady areas in the bush. The benefits become even more prominent when we reach the first river crossing. Before we get to the river crossing, the track is descending steeply and care is required, especially when the path is wet. Recently steps have been made in part of the downhill area, which makes it a lot easier to negotiate. The river crossing is at a place where the Opuiaki River is quite wide but shallow, so you might get your bum wet, but not your backpack (unless you manage to slip and fall). When you emerge from the river it only takes a few minutes to dry completely.
        From the river crossing, the track follows the Opuiaki river and the views from the bank changes all the time. Trout spotting is a popular activity (for some) and for a few years we have seen a pair of trout that in my eyes were ‘huge’. However, I did not see them this year, but did see others.
        Meanwhile, some of the ladies are preparing some nibbles and food for the afternoon social gathering. Meals are in general your own responsibility, but on Monday (or Tuesday) there is ‘chicken tonight’, if you brought one, while on Thursday we all go to the BBQ area for a picnic, jeux de boulles and of course food and drinks.
        The path has it’s obstacles in the form of small stream crossings, fallen trees and the odd wasp nest, which requires careful passing. It is recommended to have at least some anti-histamine medication in the group.
        Just before reaching and within view of the Te Rere I Oturu Falls there is a second river crossing. Slightly more challenging than the first, but this also depends on the water flow. You can only see the top part of the falls, but it is a spectacular view, especially with the sound of the water coming down.
        After a short track on the other side of the river, the falls emerge in full view. Simply magnificent. On the left side are some large rocks that provide relatively comfortable seating for having lunch. The more adventurous can go for a swim in the lake and there are plenty of opportunities for taking photos.
        There is some reluctance to leave the falls behind us and start the hike back, following a different track. A hundred meters or so from the falls is a large ladder leading to the ridge at the same level as the top of the falls and there is an opportunity to carefully peak over the edge and see the water running over the ridge and dropping down in the lake below.

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