Every year around this time, starting from late fall to winter, tourists from Great Britain, Germany, Japan, along with many Americans, make the journey to northern Manitoba, one of Canada’s most northern regions.
For many it will be their trip of a lifetime.
It is the call of the wild Polar Bear living in its natural environment which motivates these International travelers to make this northern trek.
The town of Churchill, on the shores of the Hudson Bay, is the starting point. Once the site of a large United States military base, for a few short weeks each year Churchill becomes a significant tourist Mecca.
The Polar Bears that gather there annually attract multitudes of famous photographers and film crews from the likes of National geographic, the Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel.
As perhaps the best place anywhere to see Polar Bears in their natural inhabitant grew, the Town of Churchill has unilaterally branded itself, the Polar Bear capital of the world.
It is a slogan that is justified, as hundreds of Polar Bear gather on the tundra to wait the freezing of the massive Hudson’s Bay waters.
Once it freezes they will leave the shoreline areas and wonder far onto the ice of Hudson’s Bay where they will spend the winter.
But before they do, they are available to be visited upon by fascinated tourists in the uniquely designed Tundra Buggies, invented especially for this purpose.
One has a sense of bemusement at the first sighting of the Tundra Buggies lined up beside each other. But that feeling quickly turns to awe when the impact of the size of these vehicles, with their five foot high wheels and huge spacious cabs, hits home.
The Tundra Buggy represents a phenomenal engineering achievement.
Built on a fire engine frame, it is designed to give all occupants excellent access to Polar Bear sightings with an open balcony at the back for serious photography. Both bear and tourist are safely protected from each other high above the surface of the frozen Tundra.
The Tundra Buggy with its huge wheels and powerful engine follows a trail through snow and muskeg that few other vehicles could traverse. While the passage is a little rough in places, the ride is safe and an exciting part of the adventure.
However, the real adventure clearly begins with the first sighting of a polar bear. The excitement is palpable from the murmurs and gasps heard in the Tundra Buggy. At this first sighting, the bear is still a distance off and the best is yet to come. Before long the buggy is able to get as close as 30 feet to various individual and groups of polar bears.
Without warning a two large male bears begin sparing with each other not far from the vehicle.
Their writhing turns into a wrestling match the likes of which the World Wrestling Groups could never duplicate.
With the occupants of the buggy already instructed to remain as silent as possible so as not to frighten the bears away, the only sound to fill the air is the steady stream of camera shutters and the whir of rolling video tape.
It’s only when bears curiously approach the Tundra Buggy that the gasps of awe return. Silence prevails as everyone marvels at the sense of exclusivity the lasting memories of this excursion will have been created for each of them.
As the Buggy slowly traverses the tundra, the frequent stops to view the different polar bear gatherings are punctuated by close up observations of white foxes digging for Lemmings, Grey Owls spying on the passer byes, and the occasional White Hare, statue still, as close up lenses invade his solitude.
For most, one day will not be enough of what is most likely to be a one-time experience. They will repeat the polar ride another day and still feel they have not had enough.
Companies, like Frontiers North Adventures, who offer these packages, are very strict about ensuring that this is an eco-sound experience. Visitors are warned to stay quiet, but more importantly to never feed the bears or any other wildlife.
And while the bears are the main attraction, there are other diversions and adventures which make the trip worthwhile for others.
One of the most exciting is the dog sled opportunities.
Some may harbor doubts when he explains how much these dogs want to be on the trail, running and hauling the sled with one or two occupants on it.
That doubt is immediately erased when he picks up the sled harness and the howls of the thirty six dogs he owns overwhelm the senses. Each one strains at the collars around its neck wailing to be chosen. When selected the unbridled affection they show as they are being fitted into the harness puts aside any qualms whatsoever.
After this experience it is not hard to understand why this trip brings tourists from around the world to this otherwise barren wilderness. But it is an opportunity that may not be with us forever.
If prognostications regarding global warming come true, and the ice the Polar Bear must live around disappears, they may follow the route of the dinosaur to be seen only in museums, where we will be left to marvel at what once was.
If you go
-Frontiers North Adventures offers the largest number of Tundra Buggy experiences. This is a very well run Manitoba operated family business. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
What to do
The Churchill museum is filled with some of the finest Inuit carvings you will find anywhere. A Churchill and area tour can be booked which will include the museum, the port terminal, and an excellent series of educational displays in the train station.