Churchill is located on the west shore of Hudson Bay, at the mouth of
the Churchill River, far from any other towns or cities. The former
18th-century trading post is right in the middle of a major polar bear migration
route in October to November when polar bears head toward the coast to wait for
the Bay to freeze to go out to hunt seals in winter. Churchill has become
one of the best places in the world to see these white behemoths up-close,
earning it the nickname “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.”
Getting there (10/28) ...
We booked a
Polar Bear Photo Safari at the
River Heritage Lodge by Churchill Wild.
It was an all-exclusive 6-night (5 full days and 4 nights at the Seal River
Heritage Lodge) tour starting and ending in Winnipeg.
We had a flight from
San Francisco to Vancouver, and then arrived in Winnipeg in the early evening.
The polar bear tour started from the afternoon on 10/29 so we could have a full
free day to relax and go around by ourselves in Winnipeg.
Day 2 (10/29) ...
- Saint Boniface Cathedral
We took a Uber to the Saint Boniface Cathedral
in Winnipeg city in the morning. On July 22, 1968, the old
cathedral (built in 1906) was damaged by a fire which destroyed many of the
structure's features and contents. Only the fašade, sacristy, and the walls
of the old church remained. It's interesting to see the new cathedral (in
1972) was built behind the 1906 fašade.
- The Forks
The Forks, located at the junction of the Red and
Assiniboine rivers, has been a meeting place for over 6,000 years.
Indigenous peoples traded at The Forks, followed by European fur traders,
Scottish settlers, railway pioneers and tens of thousands of immigrants.
Today the Forks is a shopping and entertainment district set in a number of
historic buildings housing a mix of interesting shops, restaurants, and
We had a nice lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory (simple
but delicious), and had the best desert at the
Mini Donut where
they fried your donuts after you ordered.
- Royal Aviation Museum
The Royal Aviation Museum was just open to
public at its new location in May 2022. The location was very
convenient with a short 5-min walk from the our hotel at the Winnipeg
Airport. The museum has 14 immersive galleries, including 22
aircraft and a rich selection of artifacts. It even has a
- The Polar Bear Tour officially started in the afternoon when we first
went to try on our winter gears (parka, snow pants, and boots) at the hotel
from 4:00PM to 6:30PM (we picked up ours at about 4:45PM). It's good
that Churchill Wild included these winter gears in the tour package so we
did not need to prepare and bring these bulky outfits. The tour
continued with the first group (14 people in the group) dinner/orientation
at 7PM to kick off the adventure for the next 5 days.
Day 3 (10/30) ...
- Fly to the Seal River Heritage Lodge, Churchill
We had an early start
this morning: breakfast at 4:45AM and walked to the airport at 5:15AM
for our flight to Churchill at 7AM. After arriving in Churchill, we
were taken to the hangar to board our chartered bush plane for the 30-min
flight (video) to the remote
Seal River Heritage Lodge, one of the National Geographic Unique Lodges
of the World. It is very remote on the rugged coast of Hudson Bay and
in a prime location for observing polar bears as they wander the coast
during summer and fall waiting for the Bay to freeze.
After we were settled in the lodge, a polar bear came to
the front of the lodge for my first perfect shots of polar bears.
- After a light lunch, we headed out for our first guided hike
around the lodge. It was a very productive first hike to see many
polar bears in about 2 hours and to practice our protocols when we
encountered a polar bear in the wild. We had 3 guides (Marco, Jesse,
and Simon) to lead and escort us for all outdoor excursions. They were
all well prepared and equipped to
handle bear situations in the field (from verbal noise ,body motion, group
motion, making more noise by rocks, throwing rocks, pyro guns to make louder
noise and spectacular fireworks, pepper spray, to finally shotguns).
Day 4 (10/31) ...
Northern Lights & Sunrise
We were waken up by the staff at about
6:30AM because of the northern lights (aurora borealis). The light was
strong and dancing around with the pre-dawn orange glow on the eastern
horizon. It was an amazing sight and experience (much more exciting
than our aurora experience in
Sweden in 2019).
- The routine at the Seal River Heritage Lodge was like this: 7AM
morning coffee, 8AM breakfast, 9:30AM-noon morning hike, noon-1:00PM lunch,
2:00/2:30PM-4:30/5:00PM afternoon hike, 6:00PM drink/snack, 7:00PM dinner,
8:30PM evening talk/lecture, 9:30PM free. And anytime a polar
may walk close to the lodge while we were relaxing in the lounge (video,
- We started with some small arctic animals (ptarmigan, arctic hare, etc.)
in the afternoon. After walking around for about an hour, we
began to have two close encounters of polar bears. It was both
exciting and nervous (a little bit scary to be honest) when you saw a polar
bear standing up on its feet (video).
At the end, our guide had to throw rocks to scare it away (video).
Day 5 (11/01) ...
- Northern Lights
We were waken up again at 2:30AM for the northern
lights. The light show was even better than yesterday! However,
it was so windy (my tripod fell to the ground) that we could not stay out
for too long.
- It was a sunny but cold/windy day (low at -15C but feel like -25C
with wind chill factor). Everyone including guides all dressed up with
full gear and face protection.
- We walked along the coastline in the afternoon and saw the bay had
started to freeze (there were still ocean waves yesterday). We could
even walk on the frozen water to ice skating a little bit (video).
We did not have too much wildlife encounter today, but I had a good day for
some landscape photos around the Hudson Bay.
- Northern Lights
Another night for northern lights at ~9:30PM. I
decided to setup my camera/tripod in our room to take pictures....
Day 6 (11/02) ...
- The grounds were all frozen solid today. We went out of our lodge
compound from the southern gate, and found a bear at the coastline around
the lodge. We watched it play on the snow for a while, and then it
started to walk toward the lodge (video),
got close to the fence, and then stand up at the gate (looked like trying to
open the gate, video). We
had to stay outside for a while since the bear was at the fence blocking our
way to enter our compound (we planned to go through the compound to exit
from the north gate to hike to the other direction).
After the bear moved away from the fence (south) gate, we
were able to enter the compound. But the bear moved around and stayed
beside the fence close to the north gate which we planned to use to go out for
hiking. After the bear was comfortably settling down, our guides led us
quietly exiting from the north gate without disturbing the bear too much.
- We hiked to the tundra area for some historical remains of the
indigenous people (Thule and Inuit) this afternoon. It was an easy
walk on the flat and soft tundra ground with a lot of berries. We were
surprised to see some staff from the lodge were bringing mulled wine (wine
heated with added sugar and spices, drunk warm as a traditional winter drink
in some countries) for us to take a break in the field.
Day 7 (11/03) ...
- We were scheduled to fly out at ~ 10:45AM after the next group of guests
fly in from Churchill so we planned to have a lighter and shorter hike this
morning (and only 6 guests joined the hike). When we were in the
field, the guides got a notice from the lodge staff that the weather was too
bad in Churchill that the airport was closed and no flight was possible in
- After lunch we were still standing by for the news of upcoming travel
plan. The weather was getting worse when we went out for the
additional afternoon hike (but only 4 joined this time). It's a real
arctic experience to walk in such a harsh windy condition (video).
After we were back to lodge, we were informed that the flight was canceled
today and we got an extra free night to stay at the Seal River Heritage
Lodge. The weather was in our favor :-)
Day 8 (11/04) ...
- The weather finally calmed down this morning. The chartered planes
landed with the next group (unlucky for them to stay the night in Churchill)
at 9AM, and we were back to Churchill with a smooth flight before 10AM.
With a short drive around the Churchill (tried to see if we could find more
polar bears) and a quick lunch at the Lazy Bear Lodge, we boarded our flight
to Winnipeg at 1:30PM and concluded our fantastic Polar Bear Tour back in
Winnipeg before 4PM.
Going Home (11/05) ...
Due to the weather delay in Churchill, we had to reschedule our flight home
from 11/4 morning to 11/5 afternoon. With one extra morning in Winnipeg,
we went to the Exchange District and Chinatown, and had a Dim Sum lunch in one
popular local Chinese restaurant. We had felt the transition from fall to
winter in a short week in Churchill. The close polar bear encounters, the
dazzling display of northern lights, the gorgeous sunrise over the Hudson Bay,
the tundra with lots of delicious berries, the harsh cold and windy arctic snow
storm, and the friendly guides and staff at the unique Seal River Heritage
Lodge, etc., all these were truly wonderful experiences we enjoyed from this
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