Not long after we arrived in Nelson a colleague of mine began pressing me to go and visit one of the Christian camps that he helps out at during the school holidays. “You have to come out to Curious Cove,” Brett said (Brett is our children’s and Youth Pastor), “It’s as close to paradise as you’ll ever get.” So I decided to take him up on the offer. I invited my two daughters, Katherine and Emma to come with me. It was a 2 and ½ hour drive from where we live in Richmond to Picton, where we parked our car and got on a Water Taxi. You see there are no roads into Curious Cove; it’s only accessible by water. Since half the day was going to be lost in travel, we decided to stay the night.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
Curious Cove is located in the idyllic Queen Charlotte Sound, one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. Small wonder that it attracts so many tourists, with the clear, sparkling water and native bush in every direction you look. Queen Charlotte Track is one of NZ’s top picks and the Water Taxi keeps a busy schedule with daily pick-ups and drop-off’s. I heard the motor quieten to a low growl and the nose of the boat dropped as it came off the plane. We must be approaching, I thought.
I poked my head around the side of the main cabin. So this was curious cove! Goodness, it really DOES look amazing. “Welcome to paradise” says Brett, while we off-loaded our bags on to the jetty. “Let me show around.” There was no doubt about it – this was a fantastic location. In every direction I looked, I saw unparalleled beauty. “Wait until the morning,” says Brett, “the only sound you’ll hear will be Bellbirds and Tuis.” Being an early riser, I could hardly wait.
After a quick tour of the campsite I decided it was time to meet the camp hosts – Tony and Jane Ross. They have been running this camp for the past 21 years.That’s pretty good commitment when you consider they are isolated from civilized life for more than ¾ of the year. Tony and Jane share a common passion: both their lives were transformed by attending Christian camps. Now they want to see others experience the same.
“So where are they?” I asked Brett. I wanted to meet these two. Brett wasn’t sure, which told me one thing: they’re not looking for the limelight; nor are they particularly enthralled that some new pastor turned up. Just the kind of people I like. I eventually found Tony, busy working on a Flying Fox (zip-line for the US readers). Now here we have a case of Kiwi-ingenuity, I said to myself. There he was, up on a ladder – spanner in hand, ratcheting up tension of the guide wire which was being kept tight by a Toyota truck parked close by. “Pleased to meet you”, said Tony after climbing down the ladder. “I’d offer my hand except it’s covered in grease.” “No problem with that,” I answered, extending my hand. “I’m an engineer by trade. I’m used to grease.’ There was an instant bond.
OK, so that’s Tarzan, where’s Jane? “I’d check the kitchen” says Brett. It turns out that Jane is not only the main administrator for how things run in the camp, she’s the main chef as well. “Need a hand?” I asked as I poked my head through the main door. “All under control,” Jane answered. And it was. “Mind if I take a seat?” I asked. “Sure thing,” she answered. I sat down at the smoko table while Jane filled me in how Tony and her met, some of the history of Kiwi Ranch and the people they depend on to make it all work. “We appreciate you coming out,” she says, “Sometimes we feel a little isolated where we are.” I could understand that fully. I take it for granted that I rub shoulders with brothers and sisters in Christ every day of the week.
After dinner the girls and I got to see their full program in action. Brett and his team really know how to draw these kids in – lots of enthusiasm (essential for kids’ ministry), creative teaching games, and simple yet profound teaching of gospel truths. I found myself becoming an instant supporter of Christian Camps.
But there was one thing left to accomplish. It loomed high on the ridge every time I looked up the valley. They called it the mountain. It wasn’t really a mountain. It was more like a steep hill. Brett said climbing it felt like going up a mountain. I felt it calling my name. In the morning, at first light – I’m going to take it. Well it was more of a mission than what I thought. Part of the problem was the lack of a clearly marked track, so I got lost 2 or 3 times in the bush. But after 55 minutes of running, scrambling, clawing and climbing – I made it to the top. And it was worth every ounce of effort. Before me was a 180 degrees panorama of the Marlborough Sounds, with no one else within a 5 km radius. It was me and my Creator – no one else. It was a beautiful few moments, of which I’ll never forget.
When it came time to leave, the sun blazed through a deep blue sky. Tony was doing more work on shoring up the jetty with the help of a friend in a digger. Most of the work on the place is done by volunteers, who give up a few days here and there to keep the place in good shape. After waving goodbye we threw our bags on the water taxi and jumped aboard. “All set?” asked the pilot. “Yep, we’re all go” I replied. The motor let out a deep roar; the nose went up and within a few moments the boat settled down onto a plane. I looked back over the transom and watched Curious Cove diminish into the distance, as the water foamed and boiled in our wake.
Somehow I needed to find an excuse to come back to this beautiful piece of paradise.
 “Smoko” (pronounced “smoke-o”) is a term used by Kiwi’s for a short break during the work day where people sit around a table, drink coffee or tea and have a chat.