Going to Extremes; Paul and Peter verses Sub-Arctic Polar Bears

I have always been fascinated by extremes, whether it be extreme adventures, extreme personalities or extreme travels. In my mind, in the animal kingdom, there is nothing more extreme than the polar bear and that is why I decided to take this journey.

Day 1 & 2 – Our journey to the sub-Arctic habitat of the great white bears began with a short flight to Chicago and then a slightly longer ride, 4 hours, on to Winnipeg Manitoba. Natural Habitats had arranged for a comfortable stay at the Fort Gary Hotel, which is one of the more architecturally interesting buildings in the city and is in the historic registry. The hotel itself was built by the Canadian Railway in 1911 in a Gothic chateau style. Candidly, I feel Winnipeg is not a terribly unique destination, but does provide the necessary “staging” area for the trip to Churchill to view the bears.

The following morning we departed the hotel for our two hour flight transfer to Churchill. This flight was the most seamless, pain free, experience I have ever encountered thanks to our hosts from Natural Habitat Adventures, who charter their own 737 aircraft for guests. What did this mean for us as travelers? It meant, there was no hassle at the airport, no airport security and we were allowed to drive right onto the tarmac, up to the plane to load. Now THIS is living!

One of my best friends, Peter, had joined me for this journey and we were booked on the Ultimate Churchill program. In flight we met a number of other folks who were traveling on the Natural Habitat Photographic and Tundra Lodge programs. Each program has it’s own unique nuances and is customized for each travelers specific interests. It became very apparent that you need a specialist to make sure you are on the correct program or your experience and enjoyment will be impacted and potentially diminished.

Upon arrival in the town of Churchill (about a half hour ride from the airport), you immediately know why the bears operate from, and thrive in, this region. Even in mid-October the temperatures are low and the wind is strong and relentless. To be comfortable, you must dress in layered, heavy winter clothing and wear warm hats and gloves when heading out. The town is minimalists at best and there are only about 900 full-time residents. The only way in and out is by rail, boat or by air and the similarities to many northern Alaskan frontier towns immediately springs to my mind.

In Churchill the hotels, restaurants and gift shops provide all the necessary, but rather utilitarian needs, of the locals and visitors alike. All visitors must prepare and remind themselves that it is the allure of the bears and not the charm or temperate weather of the town that draws folks to Churchill. As we went to sleep that night, we could only imagine what lay ahead of us in this remote land.

Popular Posts