Polar Bear Observation in Churchill, Manitoba

Gorp.com

Traveling solo or with their family in tow, a distinct, ursine crowd gathers by the thousands in the pristine, white wilderness of eastern Canada to wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze. Hardly an exciting activity, admittedly, but this isn't the latest craze in extreme traveling—it's what the polar bears of Manitoba endure each and every year. With these crowds come a more familiar breed: human nature-lovers and intrepid travelers in down parkas, most with cameras dangling from their necks, their eyes squinting for that perfect shot of the world's largest land predator.
Between October and November, Churchill, Manitoba, is overrun with these massive animals due to the town's proximity to the bears' migration path. By early winter, the Hudson Bay has frozen and the bears, who have traveled from as far as Greenland and Norway, stop in to dine on the region's seal population, a staple of their diet.
Exploring the terrain in a converted school bus, also known as a tundra buggy, allows up-close-and-personal exposure to the migratory packs, especially since some polar bears are over 12 feet tall when standing and can weigh almost a ton. Day-trippers onto the tundra can take advantage of these vehicles, while those with more time (and dedication to capturing that perfect shot) can opt for a multi-day stay on one of the region's tundra lodges—an entirely mobile series of train passenger cars that provide 24-hour exposure to the animals in their native environment. Elevated observation decks allow for horizon-line exposure and also afford bird's-eye views of the animals as they forage beneath the decks. Most lodges also have animal specialists and a professional photographer who offers tips and can fix minor mechanical problems.
There are various options for visitors to Churchill, and trips can be customized in numerous ways. TravelWild Expeditions and International Wildlife Adventures, Churchill's two major tour companies, both offer accommodations on the tundra or combined tundra-lodge-and-hotel packages. Independent travelers have a host of hotels to choose from and can arrange day trips to where the polar bears congregate. But all visitors must remain inside the lodge or on the observation decks once on the tundra, lest you capture an all-too-real, final shot of the polar bears' predatory nature.

Published: 19 Jun 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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