Churchill: The World’s Wild Safari Park

Churchill: The World’s Wild Safari Park

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Churchill is a tiny town in Northern Manitoba, Canada. You might not have heard of it since theres only one thousand people that live here, in fact quite often there are far more bears than people. This was the one place that we knew we had to visit on our ultimate Canadian road trip.

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We chose to visit Churchill on a Budget, which meant getting to explore this sub arctic town in summer.  Day after day we found ourselves embarking on one wild wildlife adventure after another, such as this safari in a Tundra BuggyⓇ …

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“Buggy 9 Buggy 9, departing base” calls Jim through his buggy radio. He kicks the enormous all-terrain vehicle into action and after gurgling to a start she begins to move, first at a slow pace and then, as he revs her up, almost at running speed. Everyone onboard is laughing, not because she’s slow but because Jim is grinning from ear to ear at hearing her roar. “She takes good care of me and I take good care of her, I can’t get over my life, everyday I get to sit in this seat and I get to call it work.” Infected with enthusiasm it suddenly dawns on everyone that we are embarking on a sub-arctic expedition at 58º north, entering the untouched tundra beneath a hazy sky in search of polar bears and other arctic wildlife. The Tundra BuggyⓇ Adventure is one of only two companies that make expeditions into Churchill’s Wildlife Management Area. This zone abuts Wapusk National Park, a world-renowned bear nesting reserve. We are the only departure that day and it is a privilege to have the tundra all to ourselves but then again we are not here in peak bear season. We have arrived in Churchill in mid-summer, there is no snow, the weather is pleasant and most mother bears are currently hibernating with their brand new cubs. But that aside, there are still hundreds of other bears who, while waiting for the ice to form, will be roaming around this tundra, cooling off in the ocean and waiting for their hunting ground to return. We’re hoping that the 22 pairs of eyes on board will not miss a thing.

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My thoughts are suddenly interrupted, we’ve come to a three foot deep gash in the road, topped to the brim with water. Jim, however, is unperturbed and you feel like we are in good hands. This would be a great time to introduce our vehicle, our Tundra BuggyⓇ is an indiscreet pure white beast whose tires reach my shoulders and whose figure towers 4.2m in the air. She is designed to traverse snow drifts, shallow lakes and the crumbly tracks that were once built and abandoned by the USA military. They had needed an inhospitable landscape to test the strengths and weaknesses of their vehicles, the tundra had given them just that.

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Ultimate Canadian Road trip, Churchill
Check Out How Well the Polar Bear Can Flex Its Nose

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“Jim! Stop the car” yells someone in a dark purple fleece. A few minutes drive and already we are staring at something unique, a tundra swan with three grey goslings in tow is shaking water from her wings. A quick pass around of the binoculars and several clicks from cameras and the engine roars once again to life. Our slow and steady progress continues this way for the next hour, with the engine disappearing as we appreciate a Merlin spotted by Jim, a camouflaged tundra hare sitting within the grass (this one was called out by a person at the rear, the rest of us had missed it sitting only four meters away). Cranes and tundra foxes appear and disappear from within the fog that engulfs us before rolling off into the distance.

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None of this, however, prepares us for the rush of excitement when we see something large and white. That gasping noise you hear from a group of people who are both thrilled and desperate to remain silent is something I’ll never forget. Up ahead, on the roadside we are encroaching upon a sleeping white polar bear. We all move from our seats without even noticing and must have floated forward because nobody made a sound. People are grinning, whispering the word “WOW,” passing binoculars and blinking camera shutters a hundred times a second. An awe has descended upon the Tundra BuggyⓇ, we are all aware that we have just made a majestic find. He or she, no definitely she is lying down rubbing her head against outstretched paws. This bear is either unaware of our presence, or just doesn’t care for it. Scattered around her huge body are a medley of colorful squat flowers that make her white coat seem all the more bold, as if it were trying to make the statement “I am here.” The tiny dots of reds, purples and yellows interspersed with strands of green grasses is not how I pictured my encounter with a bear despite knowing I was here in Churchill for summer. It looks like a summers paradise for the bears who are waiting to face a bitter and harsh winter in a few months time and I must remind myself that in reality for them, this is the tough part. The polar bears black skin and thick furry coat are not designed for heat and the summer months for the polar bears is a hungry time, they struggle to catch anything that lives here, not only because they do not blend in but because they are not the fastest animal on this terrain.

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She wakes, she stretches, she meanders a few steps and then lies down again, having each of these basic movements scrutinized and documented by 22 pairs of staring eyes. We don’t want to miss a single moment of our first encounter with a polar bear, especially not one who is within 5 meters of our buggy. We treasure the wetness of her large black nose, feel surprised at the smallness of her ears, comment on how white her coat is without snow and how large… just how large are those paws?! After a few moments, minutes or even an hour of sleeping she heaves herself up once again, opts to take the same army road that we used to enter the park and strides steadily off into the distance. In spite of being such a large size her lean body easily dissipates into the shrubbery. We do not give chase and after a collective sigh of appreciation we push deeper into the tundra. Our buggy comes to a peaceful rest at Gordon’s Point, an outcropping of gravel and tundra that overlooks first a rocky shoreline and beyond that, the Hudson Bay.

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Ultimate Canadian Road Trip, Churchill
Tundra BuggyⓇ Adventures

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Lunch is served; Soup, sandwiches and cakes, we eat with both eyes still scanning the horizon. A ringed plover strolls past chirruping away while a graceful arctic tern, the worlds greatest migrator, plummets and swoops above the rocky barren coastline.

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We spend the remaining two hours chugging beside the waterline, our eyes slowly making a resistance to the constant staring. Jim continues to scan the tundra with binoculars, discerning white bears from boulders, there’s only one bear around for us today but we are content with such a close encounter. A swimming pacific loon and a resting bald eagle add to the list of treats we have seen today, when Sue from the office calls in to check the progress of our Tundra BuggyⓇ number 9 there is a roar of appreciation from the wildlife fans.

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– – – – – – – – – – –

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During our time in Churchill we booked on three Tundra BuggyⓇ adventures and during these tours had close encounters with three different polar bears (less than five meters from our buggy), this was a dream come true.

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Come mid-October when the snow has settled and the roads have disappeared the Tundra BuggyⓇ transforms into a gigantic snow mobile taking passengers on the ice in search of polar bears awakening from hibernation. Known as the polar bear season this is the best time to catch mums and cubs emerging and to watch polar bears in a sea of snow and ice return to their hunting ground upon the Hudson Bay.

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Ultimate Canadian Road trip, Chruchill
Arctic Hare

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Travel to Churchill on Budget is a post that we have written to give you all of the information you could need to pay a visit to this unique area without paying thousands of dollars.

 

 

Return to our destination guide: Explore Manitoba

 

 

Written by

Rebecca Mayoll is a ‘just turned 30’ freelance writer and photographer from England. She is the co-founder and author of straightondetour.com, a travel website with the mantra ‘find your own adventure.’ Promoting adventurous destinations, independent travel and giving a humorous insight to the World of travel is what Becky does best.

3 Comments
  • Mark-Anthony Villaflor says:

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for this post. Super exciting when you roll up on an animal in the wild, even if your in a huge buggy haha. I’ve never heard of this park and would imagine it would cost a lot to do this tour but glad you’ve presented an alternative. Sounds like your one bear encounter was well worth the trip. This ones going on our bucket list now.
    Love from Manila,
    Mark

    • Hey Mark,

      it’s Prue and Becks here, haha. You and Camille would love Churchill, it’s remote, rugged and riddled with arctic wildlife. A week certainly wasn’t long enough but we did managed to cram a lot of cool stuff in. Surprisingly, you can travel to and explore Churchill on a Budget – there’s a link within the text 🙂

      Kind regards and kappy trails.
      Keep rockin’ those seminars!

      Prue

      • Mark says:

        Weird, not sure why it says Rachel. Maybe an autocorrect from Rebecca? Wrote the comment on an ipad while sitting in traffic in Manila and would most def prefer being in Churchill!

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Hi we're Prue and Becks, travel writers and photographers who have been travelling the world together since 2012. Without taking ourselves too seriously, we divulge the lesser known, out of the way places and give you the tools to replicate it. Want to know more? Click on our pic.
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