Polar Bear Journey – Part1 – Preparing
2015 Oct 17 to 2015 Oct 24
It’s been a month since me and my wife came back from Churchill, the memory from the trip is still fresh. What we seen and hear makes me write this blog, a story of our honey moon trip to the town of Polar Bear – Churchill
Montreal – Winnipeg – Churchill
Oct 17 Montreal -Winnipeg
Oct 19 Winnipeg – Churchill
Oct 23 Churchill – Winnipeg
Oct 24 Winnipeg – Montreal
In order to go to Churchill by air is to transfer flight in Winnipeg，Me and my wife departured from Montreal to Winnipeg with one stop at Ottawa, it cost around $400/person for round trips, the one way trip is 4 hours. From Winnipeg to Churchill, the airfare is $1300+tax/person for round trips, it take 2 hours by air. The reason behind the high air fare is that there is monopoly. Only one company called “Calm Air” who have airlines fly to Churchill. Another way to go to Churchill is that you can take a train from Winnipeg to Churchill which cost around the same price during the polar bear season which takes you two full days, The last method to get there is that you can drive to the town of Thompson then you have to take train from there, it is the most economic way and it takes you about 36 hrs in total. We choose to go there by air because we only have one week vacation. We had an early flight at 7am from Winnipeg airport. But due to the strong wind, our first flight got cancelled and we have to wait until the weather got better. After 3 hour waiting at the Winnipeg Airport we are managed to get on the next flight to Churchill, we were worried about the delay because we already booked our accommodation that night and day trip the next day with Tundra Buggy, which is not refundable and can not be rescheduled. So here is a Tip from my experience, plan ahead and prepare for worst scenarios especially you need to catch a next flight in your trip, the weather can be really bad during the winter. Which in some cases you need to wait overnight at the airport. Our returning flight is also delayed for 3 hours due to the weather condition. It suppose to departure from Churchill at 7pm but we finally got on board at 11pm
Our trip is at the end of October, Churchill had a little snow by then, but the snow didn’t cover the ground, the temperature is around 0-10 ℃. I was told that in early November will be snow , the temperature would reach -20 ℃, You need to wear thick down jacket, hat , scarf , gloves. However, most of the time we were in the tundra, the car has a heating stove, it won’t be cold. However if you went to Churchill town sightseeing , dog sledding and the like, you need to dress warm.
There is signal in Churchill town, My cell phone stop receiving signal until we get to the national park, you can use the free wifi Internet in the Hotel.
Because we are planning our trip by ourselves. We decide to spend a day at Winnipeg. So we rented a car from Hertz at the Winnipeg airport, and we bought food from Costco. it’s way cheaper to bring food with you to Churchill, Because the price all products at Churchill are much higher than in Winnipeg, I would said 20% more. If you eat at a restaurant, it will cost you 50% more. That’s why we use an luggage for the food. Our reserved B&B provide breakfast, so we didn’t spend much money on our food.
We rested in Polar bear B&B for 4 night ($140/night) and it was a pleasant affordable place to stay. The landlord is very friendly and nice korean lady with an adorable baby girl. We lived in a small room with 2 twin size beds. Because we reserved for accommodation on september which is a little bit late, we can’t find any spot in other local hotels. Usually hotels doesn’t take individual reservation unless you are with travel agency, the best hotels are 3 stars. The Hotel average price for 2 people is around $250/night. If you decide to stay at “Great White Bear” or “Tundra Buggy” campsite, it will cost you $1000/night. Even with this price you need to reserve one year before. Because each company only have limited spaces in this 20 days. If you are lucky you can reserve a spot via travel agency. The other choice is to stay at Churchill town, which is about 30min drive, 30km away from the national park. If you plan ahead and you want to see some bears, at the same time you are interested to get to know the culture of Churchill town which is about first nation people, I suggest one day on the campsite and rest days live in town.
My gear: Sony Alpha 7R mark 2, 24-70mm, 70-400mm, a tripod。
If possible bring a 600mm lens，and a 16-35mm lens, 16-35mm lens is good for northen lights. Bring two camera bodies, because it is hard to switch lens when you wanna capture the bears’ movement. sometimes the bear can get very close to you, so 24-70mm lens is a must. Usually the bear will be 10 meter away from you.
——Using your camera wisely
I start shooting pictures not very long ago, and since Sony have a very power auto focus system, I take shots in auto mode most of the time. It is too hard for me to make everything ready before capture the moment. Bring enough backup power for your camera, battery will die fast in the cold, and also enough SD card.
——Why we went to Churchill？
This is our honeymoon trip, my wife wanted this trip so badly, for the love of Polar bears. This is all because she read an article writing about the relationship between global warming and the survival of Polar Bears. She really want to see the bear within our own eye before it’s too late. So we decide to make it happen on September 2015, which is just one month before we departure. We did lots of research preparation, and get information from our friends. After consulting a few travel agencies, we decided to make our own plan for this trip, which is half of the price if we choose to go with a 5 day tour to see Polar Bears with travel agencies. Our budget for this trip is $3000/person for 4 nights staying in churchill plus 3 nights in Winnipeg, and we are glad that we did so.
Every Year at the end of september, a big number of polar bears are gather from the south to the north near the town of Churchill. In this town with only 800 local residents, there are 1000 bears gathered at this time of the year. The truth behind this is one word – “eat”.
As people knows, the major source of polar bears’ are the seals, the hunting is happened on the ice. The rivers near Churchill have large volume so the saltness of the water is lower than the sea which have higher freezing point. So every year in November when the cold comes, Hudson Bay at Churchill side will start to freeze first. Polar Bears starved for a whole summer and can’t wait to move on to the ice for hunting seals. Polar bears’ sense of smell is very sensitive, they can feel the seal from few meters down the ice and they can dig a hole on the ice and wait until the seal comes out for breathing.
——What is the best time to see polar bears
Of course during end of October and mid November are the best time of the year to see polar bears’ migration, after November the ice on the Hudson bay moves forward very fast, just in one night, all bear can move out on the sea to hunt for seals, that means the polar bear season is over. During these 20 day lots of tourism come to this small town and the local people will make most of the money during these season for the next year. That’s another reason everything is much more expensive there.
In the town of Churchill is there another time to see bears? the answer is yes. When sea froze in November, polar bear went on the ice for hunting, Male polar bear predation embarked on the long road to the North Pole Until next summer, when the Arctic ice melts, they return back to the land, and then slowly move to the place south to Churchill. The female polar bears will return after a predator nearby town of Churchill , on the beach they make burrows in snow to breed their children. The end of December and January is the polar bear production season , After giving birth, mother polar bear will come out in March, embarked on the road to the North Pole. So , In March we can also see the mother polar bear predation scene at the beach , however , according to locals say , because their number are relatively small, in fact, it is difficult to see.
I will post more trip details in the blog coming up next.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)