I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “safari” my thoughts immediately jump to Africa. But did you know there is a once-in-a-lifetime safari you can experience right here in Canada? It’s a polar bear safari and Churchill, Manitoba – the polar bear capital of the world – is the place to be and the place to see these amazing creatures!
This past November long weekend, a good friend and I traveled to Canada’s polar bear capital via a charter flight from Saskatoon with 120 adventurers of all ages so we could see the polar bears. During the one-and-a-half hour flight, we enjoyed a hot breakfast while a biologist shared all sorts of cool (no pun intended) polar bear facts and stories of her own personal encounters working in the North.
Once in Churchill, we hopped onto buses that took us out to the tundra where we boarded tundra buggies. Each buggy held about 40 people including our driver and guide as well as a naturalist or biologist. The buggies, which are about twice the width of a school bus, were our full-service facility for the day. They offered plenty of room to move around inside, a “viewing deck” on the back of the vehicle, a bathroom, a fireplace to keep us warm, as well as our lunch (soup and sandwiches) and coffee break goodies.
The sides of the viewing deck on the back of the vehicle are at a height of 10 feet off the ground – and for good reason! An adult male polar bear can reach 10 feet in height/length when it stretches out. Just in case a polar bear came by to give us some “buggy love” we had to keep camera straps, and anything else a bear could swipe at and grab, inside and above that mark. Now, what is buggy love? Buggy love is when a polar bear comes up to a tundra buggy, stands on its hind legs and “hugs” the vehicle. Although it does happen, none of the tundra buggies got any love the day we were visiting.
While we thought the weather was gorgeous for November (clear, sunny and a high of +6!), the bears were not appreciating the unseasonably warm temperatures. Our driver and guide told us that in temps like these, the polar bears were lethargic. We were told to imagine wearing a fur coat and then sitting in a sauna. I think I’d be rather lethargic too!
Once we knew what to look for, it didn’t take long to start seeing the polar bears. At first we asked ourselves, “Is that a bear or a rock?” Our driver and guide said, “If the rock moves, then it’s a bear.” And you know what? It’s true! When the polar bears are sleeping, they look like large off-white-coloured rocks. We got to see a variety of bears (mostly sleeping or resting), but a few were up and around and invoking oohs and ahhs from those of us on board.
Tundra Buggy One is special. It is decked out with all sorts of equipment for researchers and daily provides the rest of the world with a panoramic view of Hudson Bay in addition to its polar bear coverage. Visit explore.org to watch the polar bears for yourself, without even having to leave the comfort of your home.
Our day on the tundra ended with a sighting of a mother polar bear and her cub. Mama was dozing and occasionally checking to see if her youngster was all right. The polar bear cub was nearby checking out the seaweed and other goodies that had washed up on the shore of Hudson Bay. Judging by its muddy paws and snout, the polar bear cub seemed to be having a great time. After a full day on the tundra, we ended up seeing 18 bears in total.
Returning to the Tundra Buggy base, we got back onto school buses, had a bit of time in Churchill to look around and buy souvenirs, and then headed to the airport and onto our chartered plane. We got to sit back, relax, eat a hot meal and hear about everyone’s polar bear sightings on our return flight to Saskatoon.
Classic Canadian Tours and Frontiers North Adventures gave us an amazing day trip to see the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, and I highly recommend this tour! It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cross that one off the bucket list!
Jill Laycock has lived in Saskatchewan all her life and in Regina for the last 20 years. Her days are spent at a computer and she travels whenever she can. You can follow her adventures on her blog: 40 Here, 40 There, 40, 40 Everywhere! where she’s whittling down (but always adding to) her bucket list, or connect with her on Instagram!