Churchill Wild is a luxury-minded, family-run wildlife operation that takes you into another world, one that brings you face-to-face with some of the world’s most spectacular polar bears. With offices in both Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba, Churchill Wild’s expertise with one of Canada’s most special provinces is unmatched. You’re invited by the Reimer family to step-into their world and experience something so profound, it has the ability to change you forever.
Polar bears are special, and they are under threat with the effects of global warming. With population numbers estimated at between 20,000-25,000 worldwide, these snowy-white bears need one thing to survive, ice. As ice melts around the world in the Earth’s poles, it makes it harder and harder for them to do what nature has trained them to do, hunt. In Canada, much of the polar bear population lives along the Hudson Bay, and the bay is freezing later and later each year – this causes the bears to pace around its rocky shores waiting for that moment when they can move onto the ice and hunt their seals to ensure the future of the next generation.
Churchill Wild brings you into the bears’ world in the most intimate way, allowing you, as a guest, to experience moments with them in their wait to move offshore and onto the frozen water of the Hudson Bay.
The polar bear season is from July through through mid November. As the summer springs onto the tundra and the Beluga whales begin to migrate back near the edges of the Hudson Bay, you have the opportunity to experience a trip with Churchill Wild that brings you from your home into the far reaches of Northern Manitoba, through the town of Churchill and into a remote part of the tundra that is isolated from most everything else. Here, you’ll see small flowers growing through cracks in the rocks, Arctic foxes bounding around your lodge and, of course, polar bears moving through.
With three lodges in operation: Seal River Heritage Lodge, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and Dymond Lake Eco Lodge, Churchill Wild tailors trips that are specific to the wildlife you might see at each one of them. Of course, you’ll see bears at all of them – but, what about moose, wolves, Arctic hares and more? What strikes your fancy? Their team will be happy to locate the right lodge for you and help you choose one of their themed experiences.
I stayed with Churchill Wild at the beautiful Seal River Heritage Lodge. This beautiful property was their first and it has evolved over their 25 years of business. A rustic-chic respite from the wind of the tundra, here you’ll find sumptuous rooms, cozy beds, hot showers, friendly staff members and guides as well as delicious tundra-inspired cuisine – some of which is cooked from recipes from the family themselves.
I spent 5 nights at Seal River, flying from New York to Winnipeg and connecting to Churchill. My trip was organized seamlessly and was geared toward photography. The team at Churchill Wild met me at the airport in Winnipeg to help size me for temperature-appropriate clothing. Of course, most people don’t have outerwear and gear laying around that is meant for temperatures of up to 40 below, so Churchill Wild is happy to step in. If you choose a summer trip, temperatures will be much warmer, but I went in October. There was already a nice coat of snow on the tundra, and nighttime temperatures definitely dipped low.
I was fitted for my outerwear and added this to my existing luggage. I met a representative at the airport who assisted my group on the plane to Churchill, where I was met, yet again, by another friendly smile. A quick layover and into a small light aircraft charter I went to fly directly into the lodge’s dirt airstrip. The connections were easy, and everything superbly organized.
I was welcomed into a beautiful room with an itinerary for my stay. The stay included all hot meals, wine, beer, snacks and guided walks out onto the tundra for bear spotting. The central living area provided WiFi and there was always a guide or lodge manager on hand to answer questions, fill you in on bear knowledge or talk about that day’s sightings.
It wasn’t more than 30 minutes of being on the ground when I ran right into a polar bear. The guides are very well-versed in the bears’ behavior and, before your trip begins, a safety talk is given. As myself and my group of ten others traversed the tundra, we came upon at least three bears, all with their own personality, looks, behavior and interest in us. I felt completely protected by the guides, but also so lucky to be standing so close to this magnificent creature whose existence is peril. Locking eyes with the bears is a moment you’ll never forget.
I enjoyed my twice-daily walks with our guides at Seal River Heritage Lodge. These walks always brought an opportunity to step-out and feel the elements. Although the temperatures were low, my gear kept me protected and I was never once uncomfortable.
Guests have the option to participate in every walk or relax in the lodge. Some chose to stay behind, some participated in every walk offered. But, don’t feel bad for those left behind – as seeing bears from the lodge windows is not uncommon. In fact, waking up at dawn with a cup of coffee in your hand and walking to the lodge’s panoramic windows to see a mother bear walk by with her cubs is something like you’ve never experienced. This happened twice while I was a guest.
My particular trip focused on photography, so there were many photographers, both amateur and professional, who brought all the necessities to capture these unforgettable moments. And, after a morning out snapping pictures of Arctic foxes and bears, there is nothing better than sitting by the fire with a glass of wine and sharing those images.
For those who choose a Churchill Wild trip that happens during the summer, you have the option of hopping on their boat and heading into the Hudson Bay to view the gentle Beluga whales and listen to their songs. With their unique behavior, permanent smiles and ability to communicate through body language and gestures, this isn’t something you’ll soon forget.
When traveling to such a vast country like Canada, it’s easy to get wrapped-up in the incredible cities, prairies, rainforests and beaches you can experience. But, it’s in Manitoba, on the shores of the Hudson Bay, with Churchill Wild, that your life can be altered in a profound way. Some may wonder, how? But, the answer to that question is simple. When you are able to witness something so fleeting, something under threat, and it’s right there in front of you – moving, walking, staring at you, how can you not be moved?
I spent much of my time out on the tundra in silence. I was silent to hear the stillness, the gentle lapping of the Hudson’s waves and to listen for the footsteps of the white giants that move through here each season. Those footsteps are the music that makes up the soundtrack of Northern Manitoba. It’s the sound of rarity and something special, that not everyone has the ability to witness in their lifetime. Go now. You cannot miss the chance to join Churchill Wild on an adventure of a lifetime.
Photos provided by Churchill Wild