Tension is growing between nudists and residents as Tauranga's rapid growth infringes on a beach favoured by people who enjoy baring all.

The beach, near the junction of Maranui St and Papamoa Beach Rd, has been enjoyed by nudists for decades.

But behind the sand dunes, Papamoa streets have rapidly filled in with houses and the 100 retirement homes of Pacific Coast Village, a resort-sized community that is expected to double in size by early next year.

The population growth has brought increasing numbers of beachgoers, many elderly, into contact with people who swim and sunbathe in the nude.

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The resulting tension has become more apparent since an incident on March 13 in which two girls, one aged 13, alleged that a man masturbated near them on the beach.

Several residents told the Bay of Plenty Times they were unhappy about seeing naked bodies on the beach. But nudists said that most of them were doing nothing wrong and that a small number of people had given them a bad name.

Beachgoer Deborah Cunliffe said she was walking her dog on a Sunday afternoon when a naked man emerged from the sea and "paraded" himself on the beach.

"I very much appreciate the beauty of the human form, but have reservations about being subjected to flaunted nakedness," she said. "At the very least, let's have some signposts to save my dog some trauma."

At the beach on Thursday, one retired woman complained of "males in the sand dunes" near children and a 66-year-old man spoke of "getting a bit of a shock" when he moved permanently to the area last weekend.

"They seem to flaunt themselves," said the man, who would not be named. "My wife is put-off big time."

However, one retired woman said she was not bothered by nudity as long as it met her standards.

"They are all fat, middle-aged guys," she said. "If they were Chippendales it would be different."

Bay of Plenty Naturists co-ordinator Glenne Findon was quick to distance "genuine naturists" from the alleged masturbator. She hoped that the man would be dealt with by the law.

"Naturists are sick of these perverts giving us a bad name," she said. "Just because naturists like to be naked, the public tar us with the same brush. But lewd behaviour is not naturist behaviour."

Three nude beachgoers echoed these comments, saying that they did not want to be associated with people who "paraded" themselves.

Some residents questioned the legality of nudity.

However, Tauranga City Council's bylaws and parking team leader, Stuart Goodman, said there were no bylaws dealing with the issue.

"As long as people are behaving in an appropriate manner, nudity is not an offence," he said. "Complaints about lewd or inappropriate behaviour should be made to the police."

Police spokeswoman Bridget Hayman said there was no specific offence for being naked. Depending on circumstances, nudists could be subject to laws for offensive behaviour, indecent exposure, or performing an indecent act in a public place.

Another police spokeswoman said that there had been no arrest in relation to the March 13 incident. The beach was patrolled regularly. People who were concerned about "suspicious behaviour" should report it to police.

We're harmless, nudists say

We're walking towards a suntanned bottom.

A man aged in is 40s is lying face-down against a dune, dressed in nothing more than a pair of sunglasses. He seems uncomfortable with our presence and, like everybody we approach at the beach, will speak only on condition of anonymity.

How does he feel about the complaints of residents?

"There's a need to respect other people," he says. "If there were families or children here, I'd chuck my togs on."

The man says that when he first started visiting the beach 20 years ago, it was relatively quiet and remote. Since then, housing developments have sprung up behind the dunes.

"The days of this being a nudist beach are coming to an end," he says. "It's inevitable. It's going to happen."

Where will he go?

"Some other beach around the Bay of Plenty. Maybe Bowentown."

Further down the beach, a woman in a pink cap and earrings throws on a bikini top as we approach. The woman, in her 40s, says she noticed more nudists here over summer than in previous years. She suspects this stemmed from publicity on websites including TripAdvisor.

"I just love this beach," she says. "I feel more comfortable here than at Arataki or something with families around - not that I have much to show off."

With her is a male friend, in blue cap and sunglasses. He says that most nudists are discreet and have no intention to offend, but a minority seem to enjoy displaying their wares.

The woman agrees.

"You do get the older men with their bellies just wanting to parade."

- with Sonya Bateson