TRAVEL: Polar Bears & Beluga Whales Of Churchill, Canada

Churchill is no resort town, but it certainly puts on a show for summer. When I visit in July, the tundra’s carpeted in psychedelic shrubs, the estuary looks like it’s boiling with beluga whales, and the polar bears are still chubby from winter feasting. It’s the, er, polar opposite of what you can expect from a late-autumn visit, when the world looks like wind-bashed paper and the bears are scrawny after months of walking hibernation. But any time’s a good’un to visit this remote corner of Manitoba.

Located on the banks of Hudson Bay, Churchill is a former air-force base and the home of Canada’s only Arctic seaport – and although the town of 800 peeps is light on frills, it’s got the wildlife thrills on tap.

First up for my summer trip with Frontiers North is a cruise with beluga whales; they’re as white as the ice they usually live beneath in the Arctic Ocean. Every June, around 60,000 of them head to the Churchill River estuary and Hudson Bay area to feed, give birth, and have a good ol’ frolic. You can also snorkel with them – the water here is a soul-numbing 4 degrees, but an Arctic-rated wetsuit is supplied. A less-freezy option is to head out on a zodiac or kayak. While you paddle, don’t be surprised if the cheeky cetaceans nudge your rig, or pop up alongside it to check you out – they’re super-curious. And keep an ear out for their high-pitched squeaks, trills and whistles – they’re knicknamed “sea canaries” because they’re so vocal. Here, some pics of what you can expect to see from the water:

Back on land, it’s all about Ursus maritimus – Churchill’s known as The Polar Bear Capital of the World because every year, when the Hudson Bay ice melts, around 850 of them come ashore to wait for it to refreeze (usually in November). And even though I’d been warned I might not see any bears (as the migration had just started), we see quite a few around Cape Merry and the Prince of Wales Fort – looking creamy against the colourful tundra as they dodge swooping terns.

We also head into the Churchill Wildlife Management Area on the Tundra Buggy, where we spend the whole day taking in the stunning views of the party-coloured permafrost, and occasionally seeing a 600kg bear chilling on the beach. Here, a few pics of polars on summer holiday:

See, Churchill can look almost tropical, amirite? Meanwhile, late autumn/winter looks like this:

For more frosty pics and to read my write-up of a cold-season visit to Churchill, click this.

Now you go…

To get to Churchill, start in Vancouver, Toronto or another major city within Canada, then fly to Winnipeg. In Winnipeg you’ll meet the Frontiers North crew who will escort you on the next leg of the journey – a two-hour flight to Churchill. All meals are included in the tour, as well as all entry fees and meals (booze is extra). Go here for more info.

With thanks to Destination Canada; see www.keepexploring.ca and www.canada.travel.

 

 

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