Out on the Tundra with the Polar Bears

Talking to clients about seeing Polar Bears in Canada was the one trip that I really envied and when I was given the opportunity to experience it for myself,  I could not have been happier.

I flew to Winnipeg via Toronto and spent the first night in the Four Points Sheraton at Winnipeg Airport, just a short walk (or complimentary shuttle if required) from the terminal and where the initial meet and greet took place around 9pm. We got to meet our guide for the tour and everything was explained and we were handed our rental gear – highly recommended rather than taking your own – which was very high quality Canada goose jackets (so warm!), salopettes and boots. From then on, you have to look after your own gear, which is conveniently collected and returned to a room in the hotel.

I slept soundly in my large, comfy room, excited for the days ahead and having already prepared my luggage for the 615am departure from the lobby, from where it is transferred separately to the airport hangar and then directly to your hotel in Churchill, so my warm clothing and anything else I needed was with me.

We headed to the hangar, about 10 minutes away, and waited in the welcoming lounge with tea and coffee available to aid the early start. As we waited for the flight there were rumours that the weather in Churchill was closing in; there were high winds and low visibility due to a snow storm but the pilot was optimistic that we would still be making the journey to Churchill.

We all boarded the plane and were all very excited when the flight took off, but the excitement turned to sadness after 50 minutes into the flight when the pilot made an announcement that we had to turn back as the weather in Churchill had got worse and it was going to be impossible to land there! The disappointment was clear to see on everybody’s faces.

However, after the initial shock and disappointment of the plane turning around, the organisers were fantastic and instantly kicked into gear, making plans and advising everyone what would happen next. Back in Winnipeg they shuffled around the itinerary and arranged for visits to the Assiniboine Zoo, city tours, and arranged accommodation for that evening

It is very rare for the plane not to be able to land and has only happened twice! But reassuring none-the-less to know how well organised everything is when the unexpected happens.

After another night in Winnipeg we made it the following day to Churchill with no further hiccups! Nolinor Airways were very good and the crew very pleasant on the short 1.5 hour flight  and it was very exciting to finally land in Churchill.

On arrival in Churchill we did the Town & Tundra bus tour that takes you around the local and historical points of interest surrounding Churchill, stopped at Cape Merry, Port of Churchill, and Manitoba’s Polar Bear holding facility (known locally as Polar Bear jail). Other visits include the Istanitaq (Eskimo) Museum which is fascinating and the ultimate selfie with the giant Inukshuk.

Giant Inukshuk pose!

I enjoyed my stay in the Polar Bear Capital of the World, where it is not unknown to see bears in the town; if it happens, sirens go off, the bears are taken to Polar Bear jail from where they will be airlifted back on to the Tundra. A real highlight was dog-sledding; such fun and such wonderful huskies who are very friendly and well looked after.

Dog sledding in Churchill

After a comfortable night in the Aurora Inn, I was itching to get out finally to get to see the bears and the 8am transfer to the Tundra Buggy launch site is quick and efficient. The Tundra Buggy itself is very spacious -the Enthusiast tour has a maximum of 22 guests, which is perfect – and our guide, Sue, (also only on the Enthusiast tour) was so knowledgeable and attentive.  It was warm and cosy inside the Buggy and the layers were best kept for stepping out on to the platform where they were very much needed! They are quite restricted in where they can go but they cover a very large area and know where to find the best spots for the wildlife. The food and drink provided is excellent too.

Neil, our driver, was amazing, he really contributed to a great experience;  he was very funny and entertaining as well as being very knowledgeable and passionate about the wildlife and environment  –  I even got to drive the Buggy!

The sight of my first bear is one that will live long in the memory; there was an overwhelming feeling of how majestic these animals are and how privileged I was to be in their back yard. I am sure I was not the only one holding back tears as their eyes almost seem to lock with yours.

My Polar Bear

Sleeping out on the Tundra is a very special experience and the Tundra Buggy Lodge was a surprise and a delight and so well set-up. There is an area to sit and read with a TV which gives you up to date information on the wildlife. On top of one of the buggies is a viewing deck with amazing views of the Tundra and landscape. The sleeping areas are quite spacious, with thick curtains for evening privacy and space to store luggage. Three toilets and two showers are shared by the 20 guests, but it works well and there is plenty of hot water to go around. All meals are included and you get two full days on the Tundra; the lodge is positioned in a fabulous spot where the Polar Bears roam around the Hudson so is ideal for maximising time seeing these incredible animals.

Tundra Buggy and Lodge

Since this wonderful adventure, I have spoken to many clients about my experience, reliving it every time and almost wanting to ask to escort them! I would love to return one day and while the phrase ‘trip of a lifetime’  can be somewhat overused, it definitely does apply to Polar Bear watching in Churchill.

Jeanette Dembrey
Frontier Canada