Belugas, Bears & Summer Wildlife of Churchill 2020
7 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Arrive in Winnipeg and transfer to the Fort Garry Hotel, built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The French-style chateau is still the grande dame of Winnipeg, offering first-class hospitality in Manitoba's capital. Meet your Expedition Leader and fellow travelers at a welcome dinner on this first evening of your Arctic summer adventure.
Day 2: Winnipeg / Churchill, Manitoba
This morning, fly north by chartered plane to Churchill, the remote outpost community that is the gateway to the Arctic. We'll spend the day exploring this hospitable frontier town that was originally a Hudson's Bay Company fur trading post. During our tour of the community and its natural environs, we follow a trail through the boreal forest and visit Churchill's Itsanitaq Museum, showcasing the region's indigenous cultures with artifacts collected from centuries of habitation. We may also have a chance to meet local individuals for insight into their cultural traditions and daily lives. These captivating storytellers share tales from their personal histories, offering a window into the enduring cultures that have flourished in this harsh environment for thousands of years.
Days 3–5: Exploring Churchill—Beluga Encounters & Wildlife Watching
With Churchill as our base, spend four full days exploring the tundra, river and seacoast of Hudson Bay. Activities include a 90-minute helicopter ride over the subarctic to search for polar bears that roam this otherwise inaccessible wilderness terrain, two Zodiac excursions to observe belugas congregating in the mouth of the Churchill River, a boat trip to explore the delicate wetlands and brackish water habitat where wildlife thrives along Churchill River estuary, and an opportunity to kayak among inquisitive beluga whales that often nudge close to our paddles or follow in our human-powered wakes. More than 3,000 of these small white cetaceans spend the summer in the area, and our motorized rafts and kayaks put us at eye-level with them. With their unusual ability to turn their heads from side to side, belugas appear to be as curious about us as we are about them. Through the use of a hydrophone on board, we can even listen to their otherworldly songs. Few wildlife encounters offer as intimate a perspective as this one does.
We’ll take a larger vessel across the river to Prince of Wales Fort, established by Danish explorer Jens Monk in 1619, on the site where the Hudson’s Bay Company built one of its original fur-trading posts. Churchill became a stopover point for explorers searching for the fabled Northwest Passage and was instrumental in the opening of the Canadian West. On occasion, we see polar bears roaming just north of here around the rocky promontory that juts into Hudson Bay, and there's a good chance of encountering part of the resident caribou herd that numbers 600+ animals.
Ashore, traverse the tundra on a specialized Polar Rover vehicle in search of northern wildlife as we head to a spot near Hudson Bay for an outdoor cookout. Here at the interface of the boreal forest and tundra, we may spot Arctic fox, ptarmigan and polar bears, too. At this time of year, it is not uncommon to find mothers with cubs. The Churchill area also has plenty of walking trails that weave within the border of the northern boreal forest and southern tundra edge. This nexus of ecosystems is home to a variety of flora and fauna, which we encounter on our short walks. We also have chances to explore farther afield on foot, led safely by our Expedition Leader and local polar bear guards. Late in the season, when the sun finally starts to dip, there's even a possibility of seeing the northern lights if the conditions prove just right. After all, we're directly under the auroral oval, one of the planet's best places to see aurora borealis, and even late summer can create some fortunate magic encounters with northern lights.
Day 6: Churchill / Winnipeg
Our chartered flight to Winnipeg allows us ample time to explore more of Churchill today. Along the main street, several shops offer locally made handicrafts, from Inuit-designed wall-hangings to caribou fur sculptures. Meet a local dog sled musher and his team, spending time with the lively, affectionate dogs that are an intrinsic part of winter life on the frozen tundra. Then head out to the Northern Studies Center, where scientists are researching the Arctic environment, social issues and sustainable resource development within this extreme yet fragile landscape. Early this evening, we gather for a farewell dinner, reveling in the memories we've made over the past week, before meeting our flight.
Day 7: Winnipeg / Depart
After breakfast, our Arctic summer tour comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.
All This Included
Few of nature’s marvels match the intense aliveness of an Arctic summer. In a region that's frozen, still and dark for much of the year, the Northland awakens with a burst of energy during these long days when the tundra turns green, animals come forth in great flocks and herds, and the sea welcomes beluga whales back for their summer feasting. More than 3,000 of these friendly white whales congregate at the mouth of the Churchill River, and our motorized rafts and kayaks put us at eye level with them. On the tundra surrounding the river, look for terrestrial wildlife—we may even spot polar bears! With the remote yet accessible outpost town of Churchill as our base on the edge of Hudson Bay, we are part of the excitement, surrounded by the flurry of natural wonders a northern summer provides.
Winnipeg: Fort Garry Hotel
Churchill: To be determined
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