The Polar bears of Churchill

Day 1

3am. Ouch. I should be used to these early starts now. I have caught coaches to the airport at around 4am for Brown bears, huskies, moose. Now I was jumping out of bed bright eyed and bushy tailed (I wish!) in the hope of viewing some Polar bears this coming week!

Everyone who asked me where I was going on my next trip would gasp and say “Amazing!” And I would cross my fingers and say “I hope so!” You never know with wildlife. They don’t always make a point of coming out and saying hello. But at the price of this trip I was hoping for success even if they did throw in a ticket to the luxury lounge at the airport! And a lot of good movies on both flights, first to Toronto, then to Winnipeg. After such a long day (and what felt like a bit of a grilling at Toronto- did I really look that shifty?), it was lovely to be stopping at a hotel right next to Winnipeg airport. Before the day was over (how many days- still the one!?) we got to meet our guide and everyone else on the tour. And pick up the warm clothes I had hired- very much needed!

Our guide was impressive, very welcoming, very approachable, I liked him straight away. And he said there had been a LOT of successful bear viewing on all the tours! This is exactly the right season, literally after our tour, when the temperature and the ice changes the bears will move on.

The company has a very good relationship with Polar Bears International, the polar bear conservation charity, and Churchill, the town that we were to spend the week seeing the polar bears, (polar bear capital of the world!) well, they are also passionate about conserving the bears. The polar bears have grown up with only the tundra buggies passing through, so they are perfectly used to them, hence why we are so lucky how close they come. With the extremely bumpy roads also helping to keep anyone else apart from the tundra buggies out!

Anyway, it was really fantastic to know how much this company really cared about the wildlife. How excited we all were to get to Churchill and get started!

Day 2

Not quite such an early start, but early nonetheless. All meeting for breakfast together gave everyone a chance to get to know each other. I was surprised to be the only one there from England! Everyone else were from Australia, Phoenix, Florida, Winnipeg, Switzerland, Germany. I did however happen to live in the same town as the Florida couple’s best friends that they stay with every year! Small world!

After a very delayed flight we eventually made it to Churchill. The snow had been too rough there when we first took off so we had to sit and wait and wait.

On the plus side, as soon as we made it to Churchill, we pulled over in the bus, because a polar bear had been sighted and was being transported back to the wild! In a small town like Churchill, the bears do sometimes venture a bit far! So after a rather slow start, we saw a polar bear straight away! Later on that day, we saw a fox too!

The rest of the day involved a tour of Churchill, a lot of beautiful snowy landscapes. I loved our accommodation and adjoining pub ‘The Tundra Inn,’ it was so cosy and characteristic. I could have stayed there a long time! I decided I love Canada!

Day 3

Polar bear viewing time!

After breakfast it was on board the bus followed by our tundra buggy and we were chugging along for the rest of the day on board. Huge white vehicles specifically built as the safest way to view polar bears for everyone involved. At the back, you can go outside, making sure you have no food or drink on you, or you can also get some brilliant photos from inside the tundra buggy with the windows open.

I spotted one of the first polar bears! It was like the Sweden wildlife trip again, the satisfaction of shouting “BEAR!” and watching everyone stand to attention!

And what an unbeatable sight! To see such a glorious animal mooching through the snow, something I had only ever seen on TV documentaries, right there in front of me in the wild…just breathtaking.

It took a while, but all of a sudden it was polar bear central! Normally around late morning on these tours you manage to come across a good sighting of a group and that’s a good opportunity for the morning coffee stop. And time to take millions of photos and videos. Ditto afternoon lunch stop.

We stopped to watch a group of sleeping bears. We kept thinking one of them was going to get up..a stretch every so often showing off some impressive, huge, hairy paws, occasionally putting his head up…but no. You can’t blame him, he looked very cosy!

We were very lucky to see a pair of bears sparring. Thought to be a pair of young males. Looked worse than it was. I imagine a real fight would be a lot more ferocious and probably blood involved! But we saw them standing on two legs, teeth bared, we could have watched them forever!

Grand total of twenty three bears spotted that day! What an experience! Both our guide and our driver said we were extremely lucky with our viewing so far with regards to the amount we saw and bear activity. Sparring, rolling in the snow, digging for food. But the following day of polar bear viewing was even better…

Day 5

What?! Where’s day four? Well, let’s face it, we’re all here for the polar bears, day four was great but it wasn’t a day on the tundra buggy, viewing polar bears. Climbing aboard that tundra buggy for the second time, I was buzzing.

We had a different driver and both drivers I thought were fantastic. Both kept us supplied with lots of goodies in the form of Halloween candy, cookies and Baileys if we so wished in our hot drinks!

With many years of experience between them, both had a lot to say which everyone wanted to hear, including an eventful story when a bear opened the door on one of them once!

Today we had a VERY close encounter. A polar bear was walking towards us getting closer and closer and before we knew it, he was right in front of our vehicle! All of a sudden, it was polar bear central all over again as one polar bear climbed up at the tundra buggy in front of us, and then went on to lick the tyres!

There is a lodge on wheels that people can stay in for a holiday during this season to view the polar bears all day and all of the night! It was by the lodge today where we stopped for a long while as the polar bears descended in large numbers! One of them was lying under the lodge!

We saw more bear sparring, which I couldn’t stop videoing. It was like being in any amazing wildlife documentary.

The cherry on top of the cake? The mother of all finishes to end this amazing day of spotting FORTY polar bears? A mother and two cubs! And in true finale style they kept their distance first of all, then proceeded to come closer. I’m not sure I will ever see anything as wonderful as the polar bears in the wild. This beats them all. I’m in love with polar bears and I’m in love with Canada!

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