Our travelers all became Nomads for our private jet experience in Churchill, Manitoba to see the Polar Bears. On October 23, 2010, we took off from Wisconsin Aviation – what a different experience that was. Much more relaxed and friendly. Folks relaxed in the air terminal lounge while we checked everyone in, and then everyone was able to select their own seat. We took off from Madison, and made a brief stop in Winnipeg to clear customs before arriving in Churchill.
Once we arrived, we went on a city tour and had the opportunity to learn the history of Churchill. However, a few of us rabid Badger fans headed to the Northern Nights Lounge, which promised to have the Iowa/Wisconsin football game playing —and sure enough it was! While everyone else was learning about Churchill, we were cheering for the football team back home. Victory could not have been sweeter!
Each morning, we ate breakfast and dinner at different restaurants. I think the favorite for our group was Gypsy’s Diner. The deserts were superb. This really gave everyone a good chance to get to know their way around town.
On our first evening we watched a slideshow presentation at Bayport Plaza, put on by a local photographer. He really got us fired up to see the Polar Bears, 946 in all, who live in the Western Hudson Bay area.
The following day, we enjoyed our group breakfast together, and then took a bus to our Tundra Buggy. The Tundra Buggies were huge – you walked up a platform just to get in. There was a fire burning in the furnace on board to keep us warm. It was interesting how the ceiling of the buggy would “pop” as the heater warmed it up.
While the buggies held over 40 people, we only had 20 people on each one, allowing everyone to spread out and be more comfortable. The tundra was incredibly rocky and it was amazing what we would drive through: water, ice, slush, mud; we were thankful our buggy never got stuck. The number one rule on board the buggy? We were told was to never feed the bears.
Our first bear sighting was awesome. We were all so fired up! The windows slid down so everyone could stick their cameras out for photos, or you could open up the back door and step out onto a platform. Our first day we saw 22 bears.
Our driver, Bob, gave us the names of a few he recognized; Dancer was easy to spot since he had a bunch of scars on his face. He used to hang out at one of their remote camps because many years ago, a researcher often fed him (back when it wasn’t illegal), and he still comes back to this day. Dancer was a huge bear and he definitely owned this territory. We also met Slash, aptly named due to a large scar on his side that you could still see. We did see a mom and her cubs, which were around one-and-a-half years old, as well as a few bears who did a little sparring. When it came to lunch time, we found a bear sleeping, so our driver shut off the buggy and we all had delicious soup, sandwiches and refreshments.
We even had snow flurries a few times throughout the day. It was interesting to find out that Churchill really only receives about 2-3 feet of snow!
The next day we headed back out and saw around the same number of bears. We also saw a red fox both days, and some different birds. We looked for the Arctic Fox, but their numbers have fallen dramatically due to rabies.
On our last day, we headed to Wapusk Adventures Lodge for some dog sledding. What an incredible experience! Our group each had an opportunity to ride on a cart, but with wheels since there wasn’t snow, and the cart was led by a team of highly experienced sled dogs. Our musher was David Daley, the founder of the Hudson Bay Quest. He was very entertaining, and our travelers loved playing with the puppies. Watch the video here!
Right across from Wapusk was another sled dog camp called Bluesky Expeditions, run by Gerald and Jenafor Azure. I stayed at their home, Blue Sky Bed and Breakfast, and had the good fortune to take a night sled dog run with them on our second evening. They were the owners of Isobel, the blind sled dog featured in this year’s winter Olympics.