By Gayle Dickson
The uninitiated may snigger and crack jokes about barbequing au naturale, but for the thousands of visitors to Katikati Naturist Park each year, it’s all about chilling out and saying goodbye to body issues forever.
Spending your holiday in the nude is very relaxing, says Kevin Sampson who owns and operates the Bay of Plenty Naturist Park with wife Joan. “Guests also get rid of a lot of hangs up about their body, especially women. They see that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and it doesn’t really matter.”
For those new to naturism, it’s often one partner working to convince the other to try it, says Kevin. “Basically, most find that once they’ve taken the step and made the breakthrough, they think ‘why didn’t we try it years ago’. We had a woman come through last weekend. It was her first time at a naturist place and she was very diffident, but within an hour she had her clothes off and a couple of hours later was totally relaxed about it. She came back for a day visit yesterday.”
Running the naturist park is about as far away as you can get from Kevin’s previous career as a financial analyst with The Treasury and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as it was then. After 16 years in the capital and looking for a lifestyle change, the couple bought a motel in Marton in the late 1980s. Keen naturists themselves for many years, they saw the potential in establishing a naturist holiday park, something they’d experienced and enjoyed in Europe. It was a point of difference and it fitted in with their lifestyle.
Kevin and Joan have continually reinvested in their business. Accommodation facilities have expanded and now range from 71 camping sites, through to on-site caravans, kitchen cabins, self-contained units, to a park motel. They say this reinforces the strength of the holiday park model – accommodation options to suit all customers.
Guests like to spend a lot of time on-site so they’ve created a ‘horticulture type’ atmosphere with a wide variety of recreational activities. In the past two years they’ve added wireless internet, table tennis, outdoor chess, badminton, quoits and improved the sauna.
There’s a strong environmental element to naturism explains Kevin, and the couple have tapped into this by investing in environmental care policies including an on-site sewage treatment system, solid waste recycling, minimisation of energy use and little chemical use.
They’ve also invested in the latest technology, but Kevin says they won’t be moving to an online booking system. Taking bookings by phone and email not only gives the personal touch, it also ensures these experienced naturists can weed out the few individuals with the wrong attitude to naturism.
About 20% of the park’s visitors are international, with key markets the UK and The Netherlands; the balance are Kiwis. An incredible 76% of guests are return visitors and the average length of stay almost twice as high as the New Zealand holiday park average.
“Some people have been coming back every year since we opened and are more like family or close friends now. We also charge average holiday park prices for what our guests confirm are well above average facilities for the range and quality of what we offer. We want customers to consider they have received very good value for money, and not to have to pay more every time they want to do something from having a shower to playing mini-putt.”
Guests don’t pay a deposit on booking and don’t pay until they leave, which Kevin says encourages them to stay longer and cuts down on administration costs, as does not charging for recreational facilities.
Kevin says naturism and ‘nakations’ – naked holidays – are starting to take off again. “People are beginning to see through the media hype about having to have the perfect body. They realise they can relax a lot more when they hang out with other people naked.”