Polar bears walk through Churchill, Manitoba, across the tundra and out onto the ice to their winter seal hunting on Hudson Bay. You can visit them and learn about these amazing creatures with world class naturalists. Mid-October until mid-November is the peak time for the migration.
On this adventure you stay in Churchill, on a peninsula jutting out into Hudson Bay. You spend time on the tundra in specialized vehicles with naturalists, watching the bears as they head for the ice. You can fly over bear breeding grounds in a helicopter. Natural Habitat Adventures will take you to their Tundra Lodge – a total wilderness adventure – where you live among the migrating bears. The polar bears which funnel through Churchill form the biggest concentrated population of their kind in the world.
This is nature, so the weather and the bears follow their own patterns. You will probably experience:
- Mother bears with pure white cubs walking to the ice for the first time after emerging from their birthing den. The cubs nurse, play, lumber up to the tundra vehicles, and avoid the hungry males.
- Adult males weighing up to 1,500 lbs and measuring almost ten feet in length. They stand on their hind legs with their paws up on the tundra vehicles – including the outside viewing platform. At first glance their faces are adorable and they appear ‘huggable’. Then you realize that they are big and hungry. To them, you look like a handy snack before the buffet of seals out on the ice floes.
- The polar bear ‘jail’. Bears who cause trouble in Churchill (as mentioned, they migrate right through town) are isolated in a large Quonset hut and then flown out onto the tundra in large nets suspended from helicopters.
- Sled dogs – Try a ride on a dog sled and be amazed by these hard animals who live outside in the bitter cold – and the people who run them.
- The people of the north. Churchill is a ‘one street’ town filled with characters, most of whom are indigenous people. You will meet people who spend their lives in this forbidding climate. In this community, everyone leaves their doors unlocked in bear season – just in case a passing stranger sees a bear and needs to come inside – quickly.
- The northern lights – the aurora borealis
What to expect:
- To be awed by what you experience:
- The bears – playfulness, their ferocity and their majesty
- The vastness of the wilderness
- The cold (it is really cold!)
- The sky – it is bigger than you would imagine
- To learn about:
- The natural lives of these awesome creatures
- For instance, ‘white’ polar bears actually have black skin (look at those noses) and clear fur. The fur sends heat to the skin of the bear and reads ‘white’ to us.
- More than just cute, those polar bear noses can smell a seal that is a mile away and buried three feet under the snow
- The ecology of Hudson Bay and the Arctic
- The survival of a small community of people under harsh conditions for hundreds of years
- The threats which put the bears on the World Conservation Union’s ‘vulnerable’ list
- Adventurous, but comfortable living. You will:
- Be loaned expedition jackets and warm boots
- Stay in basic motels – clean and warm
- Eat arctic char and reindeer – or a hamburger if you prefer
- Spend time outside in crisp COLD air
- Take the most amazing pictures of your life
We went to Churchill in Mid-November and rate it among our top adventures. We suggest going with Natural Habitat Adventures because this group is led by world-class naturalists. All of their trips include hotels, flights from Winnipeg to Churchill, use of jackets, most meals, and lots of experts – pretty much one stop shopping.
Check out their trips at: http://www.nathab.com/polar-bear-tours-and-the-north
Norbert Rosing has wonderful photos of polar bears at:http://www.rosing.de/gallery/galleries.php?lang=en&page=1&path=PolarBears
The photo at the top of this article was taken by Garnet Siddell, a friend on our trip. For more, check out her website at:http://www.garnetprattsiddall.com/ (Go to the Churchill photos, and then enjoy the rest of Garnet’s photgraphs)