Visitors usually view polar bears from specially designed vehicles called tundra buggies (akin to a Portakabin on top of outsize wheels) which rumble slowly through a desolate landscape along trails originally established by the Canadian armed forces.
It is also possible to stay overnight in a tundra lodge which is a mobile accommodation version and convenient tough pricey.
There is a surprising amount to see in the arctic wilderness – ptarmigan, Arctic hares, foxes, voles and the like – as well as polar bears but there is no doubt as to the star of the show.
In late autumn the bears tend to be lethargic conserving their energy for the hunting season, but they can be found everywhere – ambling along the trails, dozing in the scrub nearby or listlessly turning over the seaweed.
Curious bears can get very close to the buggies which provide a great vantage point on their outside viewing platform.
A young polar bear seen from a Buggy in November, near Churchill.
On the frequently frozen shores of Hudson Bay in Canada’s Manitoba province, small, unattractive and chilly Churchill is the best place on earth to see polar bears, whether out on the icy tundra in a Tundra Buggy, or rooting around Churchill’s garbage cans lit only by the northern lights.
Other creatures that make this desolate land their home are white foxes, arctic hares, lemmings, owls, falcons, whales, seals and affluent eco-tourists.
The Hudson Bay part of Manitoba is a bleak and desolate place.
Polar bear viewing happens from September to December (if the ice forms late) after the bears have been hibernating/ fasting for 6 months and before the ice forms firmly on Hudson Bay. Once that happens they live mainly on the ice, eat seals for meals and are more difficult to find.
An optimistic welcome sign against a typically unattractive Churchill town view.
Apart from polar bears Churchill offers other wildlife watching possibilities with Beluga whales (the small, cute, white ones) coming in as #2 attraction from June – August, birds (June-August) and aurora borealis (northern lights January – March) a distant third and fourth since they are hardly unique to Churchill and many tourists would choose a more scenic and easily accessible destination.
Churchill’s main street in late September, with temperatures just above 0C, 32F.
The only reasons there is a settlement in this desolate area of Canada is to handle grain shipments in the summer and to maintain a now defunct Canadian military base.