Churchill Wild - Polar Bear Viewing
. Churchill, MB .
Posted September 28, 2023 | Author Desiree Rantala
Where else in Canada can you kayak with beluga whales, photograph wild wolves, and hike with polar bears? When it comes to discovering the Arctic in northern Manitoba, it doesn't get any more epic than an adventure with Churchill Wild. Wolves, wildflowers, and whispering in the wilderness. If you're ready to go on an Arctic Discovery Tour and see one of the most magical places in the world, this is how to do it. Welcome to one of Manitoba's most epic experiences.
Sometimes there's an experience that seems so surreal, you need to pinch yourself. Imagine traveling somewhere so beautiful that it seems too good to be true. But in reality, it's not a dream and you're awake. You're on the adventure of a lifetime. This summer I joined Churchill Wild for their Arctic Discovery tour, and this is how it went.
What better way to have a taste of the trip ahead than by visiting the Manitoba Museum. We started the trip with a private, after hours hosted tour, learning about the history of Churchill, the Hudson Bay and life in the arctic. Did you know that Churchill was once tropical? 450 million years ago during the Octavian period, Manitoba was underwater. This part of the planet was home to varying underwater aquatic life, from trilobites and cephalopods to monstrous mosasaur's. In fact, Manitoba is home to two famous giant's; the world's largest trilobite and mosasaur. You can view the fossil of the world's largest trilobite at the Manitoba Museum and the world's largest mosasaur, at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden.
After the many hours of travel, a sound sleep at The Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel, and excited anxiousness, we arrived at our destination. Welcome to Churchill! At the airport, you're greeted with warm hello's and enough chivalry and kindness to last...forever. Being greeted by a stranger that already feels like family is a special skill that not many people have; but your Churchill Wild tour guide? They've got it.
Churchill. A northern Manitoba community with a population of approximately 900 people full of culture, creativity, and a lot of heart. During your time here, you'll have a chance to hear timeless tales, rich history, walk the town like the locals, and shop for locally made souvenirs that will make your family back home say wow.
Enjoy the all encompassing beauty in Churchill with exceptional, epic opportunities to do so. We enjoyed knowledgeable and personal daily guided tours, impressive dining, and enough photos to keep our phone batteries charging every night. We explored sites such as Cape Merry Battery, Miss Piggy, the polar bear holding facility, countless stops to view the incredible murals of Churchill, and many more special spots.
Have you ever met someone that you clicked with instantly? Someone so friendly, welcoming and personable that they make you smile because they ooze with passion and pride about their job? That's Koral; our Churchill Wild guide for our time in town. Glowing with famously fun facts, jokes, history, and compassion, she's a one woman show.
We've all slept like a baby, but have you ever slept like a beluga? We thoroughly enjoyed a restful night's sleep at the end of every adventurous day at the Polar Boutique Inn & Suites. All the ammenities of home coupled with an impressive continental breakfast. And no, we're not talking just toast and jam. Bring your appetite!
Calling all history buffs..and those who want to learn about the past. Take a trip back to the 1700's on Treaty 5 Territory with a visit to the Prince of Wales Fort in Churchill! A command centre that took 40 people over the course of 40 years to build. Isn't history astonishing? Enjoying a guided tour led by Parks Canada. There's enough fascinating facts, fun, and flora to keep your camera busy and your ears and eyes open. Make the trek down the boardwalk and through the gates for a beautiful panoramic view of Hudson Bay. You're going to want to stop for a few photo ops.
The perfect pairing with the Prince of Wales Fort Tour, is a Churchill River Estuary Tour on the Sea North 2 vessel! Enjoy a beautiful way to view beluga whales in Churchill from a higher viewing point. See pods of beluga whales crest to the surface with their calves. Take a tour to see a plethora of wildlife and birds. Keep your eyes on the coast line, as you just pay see a big white furry friends ashore. The best part of the tour comes in the form of a hydrophone. An underwater microphone that allows you to listen to the belugas! What do you think they're talking about?
You've seen them from above and now it's time to get up and close with the canaries of the sea. Sea North Tours kayaking experience offers an opportunity to kayak in the Churchill River Estuary with Manitoba's most magnificent underwater mammals. With hesitancy and nervousness left on the shore, these cute and curious creatures are ready to greet you and say hello! You'll be left with a full heart and a sore face from smiling so much.
Belugas are fascinating creatures that feed off of capelin and crustaceans. They're friendly and vocal nature has coined them the canaries of the sea, as they can be heard singing from the surface! Kayaking with beluga whales is a lifetime bucket list item to not be forgotten. Feeling the rush of a beluga air bubble pop up abruptly beside you, to feel the bump of a friendly beluga nudging your kayak, and watching them crest from the water right beside you to say hello...there's nothing like it. I did find out on this particular adventure that beluga's are a fan of Shania Twain. Beluga's love music and they love it when you speak and sing to them! They won't judge if you don't know how to sing...
After spending an enjoyable and epic few days in the town of Churchill, it was time to depart to Nanuk Lodge. We enjoyed a comfortable, less than 60 minute flight from Churchill to the lodge thanks to Adventure Air. The sights and the scenery were fantastic! We hadn't even landed at the lodge yet when we already seen our first cluster of what we would later be referring to throughout the week... as PB's. Polar bears. Can you see the cute white cluster of cuties in the photo below?
The changing landscape and colours from the coast of the Hudson Bay, to flying over York Factory and Port Nelson, to the brush of the forest, herds of caribou, flocks of birds, and the most beautiful ombre of blue I have ever seen. We saw polar bears lounging on the sand bar and in the forest. The sand and watery bog below resembled patchwork or stretched out leather. Mother nature, she's quite the artist.
South east of Wapusk National Park, the quintessential Manitoba experience continues. You land on a sandy runway in the middle of nowhere as your heart races in excitement. The plane door opens and a thrust of fresh northern air whooshes in. You step outside where the air feels crisper and you take in a deep breath. You see bundles of brush and green in the distance, and you're bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the next leg in your journey.
Be welcomed off the plane by friendly Nanuk Lodge staff, where you'll then be whisked away for a hearty meal and lodge orientation.
We were overwhelmed with the atmosphere and amenities as we stepped into the lodge. We were greeted with a cozy and comfortable common room, a wood burning fireplace with panoramic windows, and views of the Hudson Bay coast. They house a cute merchandise shop for souvenirs, yoga mats for sunrise or sunset, private ensuite bathrooms, comfortable beds, and the most beautiful dining space. It gets even better a few flights up on the Nanuk Observation Deck, where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of northern Manitoba.
When people travel, the little things can be remembered just as much as the big moments. Enjoying a hot cup of tea, with warm clothes by the fire, after a day out exploring...is rejuvinating. Maybe it's the Scandinavian heritage in me, but I can't get enough of a soothing hot and cold cycle. The staff were incredibly attentive to our needs ensuring that our comfortability was top of mind. In the evenings, enjoy sit down presentations from the Churchill Wild Guides about the land and the animals that live amongst.
Stretchy pants may have not been on the packing list, but I recommend bringing a pair. Churchill Wild's lengthy and robust culinary history goes back three generations spanning more than 50 years. Beginning as a vision from Helen Webber, with an array of publications, there's a reason Churchill Wild's culinary insights are taking charge in the north. Churchill Wild's family run business, stemming from Mike and Jeanne Reimer, reaches far beyond great customer service and world class experiences, extending to a holistic and sustainable approach when it comes to their culinary creations. Churchill Wild works with Manitoba growers such as Prairie Wild to bring nourishing produce and products supporting farm to table. Churchill Wild's bread is made from scratch and their trained chef's create mouthwatering masterpieces for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and every snack and happy appetizer hour in between. I cannot emphasize enough how good their food was.
Take a walk on the wild side...quite literally. Explore the wilderness off the Hudson Bay Coast as you trudge through swamp like surfaces, sand bars, rocks, and gravel. Although you'll be busy keeping an eye out for the biggest of beasts, don't forget to look below for berries, shells, rocks, and other smaller than life curious creatures.
Yes this is an Arctic Discovery safari but no you are not literally riding a rhino. Figuratively? Yes. No pun intended but this isn't Churchill Wild's first rodeo. They've been hosting and housing guests from around the world for a long time. 30 years to be exact. During this time, they've perfected the art of not only lodging, world class culinary craft, and award winning experiences, but also...transportation. Sometimes you don't have what you need, to get you to the places you want to go, so you create it yourself. A play on the famous Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, you'll be transported by planes, all-terrain vehicles, rhinos, and the old fashioned way; with your own two feet. Nanuk has an array of transportation to get you where you need to go.
Churchill is a botanists dream come true. And in fact, people travel from across the globe to come to Churchill and northern Manitoba, just for it's flora. Wildflowers, lichen, grasses, there is an abundance of life here far beyond the chirps and the roars. Water hemlock (pictured right) is pretty...but poisonous. Water crows foot (pictured left) can be found along with samphire (pictured centre) scattered throughout the landscape.
If you're a birder, or a bird enthusiast if you will, Churchill Wild hasn't forgotten about you. From lesser yellowlegs to arctic to the arctic tern, the amount of fauna found off the Kaskatamugan Coast takes flight in the form of birds. You can't help but notice all things new, from beneath your feet to above your head.
The cloud wolves of the Kaska Coast are drawing tourists and guests from around the world to Nanuk Lodge for an on the ground experience second to none. This particular tour was one for the books. With our knowledgeable and trusted guides Terry and Emri, we headed out for the day to track the Opoyastin Wolf Pack. With rain in the forecast, we were prepared. We were heading west along the trail when we began to see signs of part of the pack. One of the senior members of the group or babysitters as they are sometimes referred too, began to poke their head up from the brush in the distance. We stopped, and waited. Hearts racing and my finger ready at the go on the shutter of my camera, we waited some more. Patience, paid off.
Our group sat and waited in the pouring rain for over two hours for the opportunity and observation of a lifetime. Little by little, more members of the wolf pack began to surround us. There were countless pups, along with varying older members of the pack. They slowly came towards our vehicles getting as close as 15 feet away. You could see the intent of the wolves communicating with one another about our presence, but they seem unbothered. All of a sudden, the unthinkable happens. The alpha male returns, with dinner. Right before our eyes, only metres away, the feeding frenzy begins. With pups squalling about and lining up to get a taste of nourishment, the alpha male begins to regurgitate it's food findings in order to feed the pups. Nothing like I've ever seen before. This wasn't television or a viral video from somewhere in the world. This was a world class wildlife encounter and it was happening right before our eyes. The adrenaline, the beauty, the pure shock of others in the group...it stays with you. Not only were we at the right place at the right time, I do believe that we were meant to be there and witness that moment.
Although many may assume that you cannot see polar bears during the off-season, you can. Did you know that there are 19 populations of polar bears around the world, and 13 of those populations reside in Canada? A day with the Churchill Wild Arctic Discovery tour is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Beginning with a hearty hot breakfast in the morning at Nanuk Lodge, you make two treks every single day, rain or shine. Returning for a lunch break, only to go back out into the field for the afternoon. The days go by fast as you are trekking with trusted guides, leading you to have close, first encounters with these giants of the north. Churchill Wild's guides are dedicated to taking guests out no matter the weather, to discover the arctic. The accumulation of safety and knowledge that Terry and Emri have acquired over the year's would shock anyone. From polar bears and wolves, to flowers and plants, bones and birds, there isn't much left that they can't identify or educate you about. This is one Arctic Discovery to never forget.
As someone who works in marketing and tourism and promotes our province on the daily, nothing prepares you for seeing your first polar bear. Whether you are a Manitoban or adventure enthusiasts from abroad, the magic is there. We were fortunate enough to have two different incredible experiences in witnessing polar bears in the wild. Our first day brought us up close to a sand bar. We trudged through shag like carpet of the muskeg and crouched down in a group. In the distance, a baby polar bear is curled up with it's mother and is seen cresting over the sand bar. With the blue of the Hudson Bay in the background and the lush green in our foreground, it was our very own postcard.
If you thought curious george was quite the character, you've never seen or heard of a curious bear. On this separate occasion at Nanuk, We followed one very curious bear, and he took us for quite the walk. Beginning along the coast, we walked up and around toward a unique tree feature in the soil. This curious bear was very much aware of our presence and decided to pose and give us a show. We loved it! Afterwards, the bear trekked around a pond that was situated right in front of the lodge, and paused. A perfect photoshoot opportunity. We later learnt that this bear was most likely male, as it was presenting flagging on its hind legs. Polar bears above five years of age begin to grow frayed long white hairs on the backs of their legs, one of the ways that their age and gender can be identified from a distance.
Experiences stay with you. The people you meet, the things you see, the ground in which you walk on, the food you consume, the places you sleep. Everything coming together to create a single story. If you think about it, no story in the world can be exactly the same. Whether it be the weather or the wildlife, nature was created to never be the same at a single point in time, keeping us always wanting and going back for more.
The Arctic Discovery tour with Churchill Wild is an overwhelmingly abundant offering that coins far beyond the saying of been there, done that. From kayaking with beluga whales, to photographing wild wolves, identifying wildflowers, and whispering in the wilderness as you trek with polar bears.. it doesn't get more memorable that that.
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