A stretch of Papamoa Beach known for 40 years as a nudist haunt is no longer an appropriate spot for naturists, police say.
The area of the northwestern end of Papamoa Beach between Sunrise Ave and Pacific View Rd is well-known as a nudist beach.
But the section of beach also has a more sinister side and has a history of attracting lewd behaviour. It has again come under the spotlight after a jogger saw two men engaged in sexual activity in the dunes this month.
The Papamoa jogger, who regularly runs along the dunes at that section of beach, made a complaint to police and the council.
The man, who did not want to be named, told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend he has run along Papamoa's coastline several times a week for eight years.
He said it was well-known that the section of beach was a nudist haunt, which did not concern him, but he was disturbed by the public sexual behaviour.
Signs along the dunes, posted by the landowners Papamoa 2B Trust, warn against nudity in the area.
Senior Sergeant Mark Pakes, who was until this week the officer in charge at Papamoa police station, said the beach was no longer a suitable spot for nudists.
Mr Pakes said there had been "some confusion" over what was acceptable behaviour at the beach.
"Papamoa is not the sleepy little hollow it used to be. It's slap bang in the middle of suburbia and it's no longer a suitable location for [a nudist beach].
"We have got all sorts of families and young kids using that beach because it's surrounded by residential [developments].
"The problem is it's been generally known for years it was acceptable and now it's not. People have to get their heads round [the fact] it's no longer acceptable."
Mr Pakes urged beach-goers to contact police immediately if they witnessed lewd behaviour in the area.
Sexual behaviour such as that witnessed by the jogger was "absolutely not acceptable", he said.
Papamoa police acting Sergeant Dean Wooller confirmed a complaint had been laid about sexual activity in the dunes, but the complaint was laid the following day so there was little police could do.
The legality of nude sunbathing and swimming is a grey area. In New Zealand there is no specific law against being naked in public. However charges can be laid for obscene/indecent exposure or offensive or disorderly behaviour.
"If people see them swimming naked and are offended by it, it becomes an offence," Mr Pakes said.
Letsgetnaked.co.nz, a website for naturists, says it's legal to be naked in New Zealand anywhere next to the water so long as your behaviour isn't considered to be offensive.
The website included Papamoa Beach in a list of beaches that were either long established nudist beaches or enjoyed by nudists.
But a review of the beach written by a naturist in December indicated a sinister element.
"The last couple of times I've been there were just a bunch of old dudes hanging out in the dunes ... a bit creepy. No couples, women or young people. I probably won't go there again," wrote someone with the username "pants".
Another user, writing in January under the name "jollyroger", agreed: "It's true it can have a bit of a creepy feel with people set up in the dunes rather than on the beach.
"Lately there have been more people nude on the beach and generally clothed people just walk on by with no problems.
"It's a shame this beach isn't used more by true nudists so as they can take it back to what it should be, instead of the seedy side it seems to have gained a reputation for."
But the same user later wrote that he had returned to the beach and found an improvement in atmosphere.
"[There have been] a lot more people there and now couples sitting out on the beach and not hiding up in the dunes. So really made it feel more legit there and even the clothed people walking by had more respect."
Tauranga City Council group communication adviser for customer and environmental services Alison Clifford said nude swimming and sunbathing was allowed, as long as people behaved in an appropriate manner.
Complaints about lewd or inappropriate behaviour should be made to the police, she said.
Letsgetnaked.co.nz says there is no statute prohibiting nakedness in public. In cases of "public nakedness" the police go to the Summary Offences Act 1981 and consider obscene/indecent exposure, offensive behaviour, or disorderly behaviour.
In 2003, police cracked down on lewd behaviour in the Papamoa sand dunes, described at the time as "notorious".
Plain-clothed police patrolled the area and issued more than 30 trespass notices to men who were behaving indecently or suspiciously in the area during that summer.
Police and residents had been concerned increasing numbers of predominantly gay men were indulging in sexual activity at the beach.
In 2009, Coastcare and the owners of the 2B Maori land block teamed up to spruce up the dunes in the area in the hope that it would have less appeal to those looking to perform sexual acts in the sand dunes.