Churchill Polar Bear Safari 2014 Updates

Jessica Tiffin

17 Nov 2014

Day 1 - Nov 14: Arrived Churchill

This morning we bundled ourselves into the small propeller powered aeroplane to Churchill, all wrapped up in our amazingly toasty huge parkas and warm cushioned boots so we were ready to brace the -20 temperatures when the doors of the plane opened on arrival. After 2.5 hours of cruising over flat barren tundra we saw the clouds start to appear as we neared the freezing waters of Hudson bay, and started to get excited about our first encounter with such an extreme and inhospitable landscape. The blustering wind that met our faces when we emerged took the temperature to -32 degrees, and took my breathe away to say the least. But, rather than hurrying into the terminal I couldn't help just standing there mesmerised by the stunning bright whiteness and the snow whirling around on ground. 

I've never experienced a sharp cutting cold quite like this and I have to admit I find it quite exhilarating!

In the afternoon we explored the town, hopping quickly from warm bus to warm building. The Eskimo Museum is small but full of wonders, holding thousands of intricate art pieces carved by the Inuits as a form of story telling rather than aesthetics. We managed a sunset drive around the outskirts in search of foxes and watched a dark red glow light up the huge chunks of ice on the edge of Lake Hudson. One red fox , some huge black ravens and a litter of the most adorable husky puppies are my first animals encounters before we've even left the town. 

I have a feeling this place will not fail to captivate me and i can't wait to get out on the tundra buggy tomorrow morning!

Day 2 - Nov 15: First day on the polar rover

Today we were up early to get out on the polar rover for our first day of polar bear tracking. The mornings tend to be a lot calmer in terms of wind, so the pre dawn weather was mild and still as we started the short trip out to the protected area of high bear density around Hudson Bay. As we arrived the sun was coming up, and the skies were beautifully clear, so the flat dark tundra suddenly became awash with reds and oranges silhouetting the spruce trees and making the snow sparkle. 

Today I saw my first polar bears in Churchill, and the encounters were a lot more personal that I had imagined.

Read more about my first tundra buggy experience in detail here.

Day 3 - Nov 16: Plane Wrecks and Wind Frenzies

We spent this morning cruising around the outskirts of town looking for foxes, hares and birds. The wind was picking up and to our amusement we came across an Arctic fox sitting in a parked up motorboat to shelter from the cold blasts. He looked like he was about to start up the engine and fly of across Hudson Bay! We also got a bit of a tour of Churchill, visiting the places of local legend, learning about the history of the place and going out to see a plane wreck which was nestled amongst the trees with a dramatic sunset behind it.

In the afternoon we boarded our polar rovers for a night drive and dinner out on the tundra. By this time the wind had whipped into a frenzy, so even though we were not lucky in terms of wildlife, it created a brilliantly eerie effect as we pushed on through dark dramatic snow drifts, the headlights revealing a mesmerising sheet of sparkling ice crystals and only a few feet of track ahead. Despite the lack of bears we had a merry time supping wine and feasting on warm food, as our fantastic expedition leader regaled us with tails of bears and adventure.

Day 4 - Nov 17: Full Day on the Polar Rovers

Today we had another full day in the polar rovers. The snow drifts and blustery weather had ran its course and under a clear blue sky the whole tundra was sparkling and fresh. Because of the sudden drop in temperature in the last few days the bay was frozen for miles, and subsequently most the polar bears seemed to have left for a thorough seal fest out on the ice. Far from being disappointed as I would have imagined, the crispness and striking beauty of a day this clear was rewarding in a different way, and we got some incredible landscape and sunset photos.

After our evening meal and a hilarious attempt at the national sport of curling (most of which I spent sliding on my bum!), we were in for an unexpected treat on our way back to the hotel. The skies being so clear, we thought we'd drive out to a dark spot away from the lights of town to see if there were any signs of the Aurora Boralis. Our timing couldn't have been more perfect as gentle smoky trails became a spectacular display of nature within minutes. Green curtains of light shone and danced through the sky tinted with pink and purple, and making shapes of dragons, elephants and swans. 

Not your typical Arctic wildlife, but an unforgettable experience I’m certainly indebted to nature for providing!

Day 6 - Nov 19: Helicopter ride and Dog Mushing

It was perfect weather today to take a helicopter ride over the frozen Hudson Bay, followed by a dog mushing experience. We saw around 10 polar bears in total, prowling the frozen world below in search of tasty seals. 

Our sighting included one mother polar bear with her cub.

Later in the day we headed into the boreal forest where fresh snow formed a blanket over the increasingly thick spruce woodland. We were introduced to the husky team, learning about their different characters while hearing tales of their past adventures and epic expeditions. Harnessed up their we could feel their excitement and anticipation before we shot off through the trees behind our team of dogs.

Read more about my helicopter ride and dog mushing experience in detail here

Churchill is certainly an enchanting place and it was an exhilarating with which to end my trip.

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