I HAD to see for myself. In the six years we’d lived in Cape Town, I’d never been to Sandy Bay.

I’d heard enough about it – stories about men hiding behind the dunes with binoculars and Elton John enthusiasts disappearing in pairs into the bushes.

There was also the tale of a friend’s teenage son being mugged at knifepoint, stripped naked and left with nary a pot of Sex Wax, let alone his surfboard.

“Well, at least he was left naked in the right place,” I said cheerfully. “Imagine if he’d been at Fish Hoek.”

Even as kids eking out a childhood in the wasteland of Umlaas Road, we had heard of Sandy Bay. It was a rude place; a strange paradise where naughty adults went to look at one another. It was far removed from our reality of Mrs Schefferman, the bearded church organist, and days playing soldier in the dank fort behind the tennis court. “You like Sandy Bay! You like Sandy Bay!” we would taunt our enemies.

Sunday arrived with hot arms. By 9.30, the car was packed with towels, an umbrella, the dogs, sundry water containers, my husband – and my sister-in-law.

“Maybe I shouldn’t wear a costume,” I announced, dithering between the car and the house. “Then I’ll have to be naked.” B – already melting in the front seat – barked: “I don’t care if you wear a lettuce leaf and a moustache, can we just go already?”

The path down to the beach is long – and lovely.

The sound of cicadas stung our ears and banks of pelargoniums exuded their musky scent. On the rocks below, an occasional naked couple lay like pink seals. The sea was transparent and aqua.

On the beach, my sister-in-law kept her head low. “I don’t want to see any willies,” she said. I, on the other hand, did – not because I’m a pervert or a nun, but because I was curious to see how people behave when they let it all hang out.

Behind us, a man brandishing what looked like a baby mole lounged on the sand. Nearby, a gym bunny with an all-over tan appeared to have frozen mid-leopard crawl up a boulder – one leg halfway up the rock and his bottom thrust in the air.

“Weird,” B murmured.

On the shoreline, a stocky man wearing a bush hat walked towards us with the gait of an ape. “I wonder if being naked makes them walk funny,” I whispered.

What was noticeable was the dearth of women. There was the elderly granny swinging her wrinkled breasts as she strode hand-in-hand with her equally parched beau; the nymph with corrugated ribs reading her book on a towel; the dimpled woman wearing a tiny blue sarong which provided a dangle of modesty.

But apart from them, the beach was mostly dotted with naked men sporting a variety of wild creatures in the groin area. Most of their bodies were hairless. Besides our dogs, B was the furriest being on the beach.

“Okay, this gender imbalance has to change,” I said, pulling off my bikini top. “Hand me the factor 50.”

After smearing my torso with so much cream I looked like Allan Donald’s nose, I considered my next move. Yikes.

I can barely bring myself to be naked in the gym change room, so how could I even think about stripping off on a public beach? And then there was my sister-in-law to consider. I’ve never seen her naked, she’s never seen me naked. It would be weird.

Needless to say, I remained meekly topless and my beach companions remained firmly costumed.

After shattering our shin bones in the icy water and wearing kelp boas, we headed back to the car.

On the path, three police officers were scanning the bay and its basking seal-people.

They said there had been complaints about a “few characters”.

When I asked what they had been doing, they said they’d been “playing with themselves”.

Sandy Bay isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Besides the “few characters” we never saw, it’s not full of men having orgies behind rocks. It’s not a debauched frenzy of flesh and lust. It’s just a lot of dudes – and a handful of women – doing what comes naturally on a beach which has to be one of the city’s most beautiful.

And, strangely, the nudity didn’t look weird. In fact, there was something comforting about being among people who seemed so at ease with their bodies.

Next time, we’ll definitely leave extended family members behind.

Who knows, maybe we’ll even forget our costumes.

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