Start of a hotel?
Word on the street is that a local is single handed trying to built this somewhat delapidated pile of rocks into a five star hotel.
It would certainly have a magnificent view over Hudsons Bay being right on the shoreline within the town boundry, but suspect the main visitors would be polar bears as this is in an area where the bears hang around waiting to get onto the ice in search of food.
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Northern Lights in Churchill
The Northern Lights in Churchill we are told, are best seen from around September right through to March, the first date incidentally being around the same time time as the Polar Bears prepare to migrate out onto the Ice of the then frozen Hudson Bay to spend the next six months in a feeding frenzy to maintain themselves for the summer months when they are back on land.
This year we had a display whilst we were in Churchill in mid November 2012, and although it is best viewed from out of town, where there is no stray light, we managed to get more than a reasonable display right outside the Tundra pub in Churchill and this in spite of the street lighting. In fact the locals told us that just a few days earlier, they had seen some of the best Northern Lights for some 20 years, so clearly as with Polar Bear watching, it is very much a matter of luck
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Finding Polar bears
If you want an organization who will arrange transport to and from Churchill for you and include one or more days out on the Tundra looking for, or hopefully finding polar bears then I would suggest you consider The Great Canadian Travel Co of Winnipeg.
There is never a guarantee of seeing a bear especially when going up north as late as mid-November as by that time most are well out to sea on the ice of Hudson’s Bay. There seems little cohesion between the various firms out on the tundra or in the air with tourist helicopters as for some reason each firm is allocated its own area onto which others do not encroach. We expected that in the morning one of the helicopters would spot bears and radio to other firms their location but clearly this does not happen due to the allocation of territory to each tour firm which to my mind is a great shame and means that some days people will be out all day and see nothing.
To overcome this very odd lack of cooperation between bear tour companies, I understand that as a failsafe so as not to disappoint tourists, that at the end of the day, is to bus people to Brian Ladoons property where he keeps a large number of dogs and on which at least one polar bear may be viewed much of the time. There appears a lot of controversy about this matter as you can see if you put his name into your search, one article being
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Just on the edge of Churchill, is the home of Blue Sky Expeditions which is run by Gerald Azure and family. During the winter they offer 6km moderately high speed dog sled rides on their trails through the forest, which is a great experience and is not to be missed when in the area.
Allow some 2 hours minimum, as not only before the ride, but also afterwards, their hospitality is extended to meeting the family, and some of their dogs in their outfitters tent together with tea/ hot chocolate and fresh bannock.
In mid winter it can be cold on the sled, but they have a limited number of Arctic coats to borrow which the ladies can put on over their own winter gear to keep themselves moderately toasty on the ride. Bluesky operate throughout the year, and during summer when the snow clears, they bring out the sled with wheels onto which they hitch their dog teams.
Bluesky charges are higher than some, but at around $150 pp for around 20 mins of ride, plus all the other benefits of discussing and meeting their dogs, combined with the families hospitality. It is well worth paying that much more, as some of the competitors rides are just 1 Km compared with Blueskys 6km, plus the extra feature of standing at the rear of the sled alongside the musher to get a feel of driving the dogs.if you so wish..
As you will see from their web site, they offer a great B & B bed & Sled experience
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When you're in Churchill, make sure you stop by the post office to have your passport stamped. It's the most beautiful polar bear stamp - my favorite page in my passport (and it only takes a few seconds). I'd recommend going there first so you can check hours and go back later in the day if necessary - it's a small town, so I don't think it's too unusual for the post office to close unexpectedly for a couple of hours (or even the whole day!). That happened the only day we were in town. Luckily, we were able to find a postal worker to open up shop for just long enough to get our stamp - the others on our trip weren't so lucky.
Miss Piggy is a cargo plane that crashed near the town of Churchill in 1979. Fortunately, all eight crew on board walked away. Apparently the plane was left on site because it would have been more damaging to the environment to remove it. Now it's a popular site to visit. The name was attributed to the plane's large cargo capacity.
I believe there are tour operators that will bring you to the site. I was fortunate to have a friend who lives in Churchill take us. Do not go alone without armed supervision as Miss Piggy is right by the bay and polar bears may be in the area. We saw tracks on our way to the site. I wouldn't pay too much to visit the site; it is interesting, but not worth a lot of money. Maybe if it is a stop on a more extensive tour. You basically look at the plane, climb the wing, peek in, and that's it.
Tundra Buggy Tour
Yep, they're really expensive, but they're also probably the best way to see polar bears, which is the reason you're way up in freezing Churchill, Manitoba in November! It's a full-day adventure beginning between 7:30-8 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. or so. You will have snacks, hot drinks, and a nice lunch (we had soup and sandwich) provided. The buggy takes you out on the tundra where the ice freezes up earliest. The bears are all waiting along the coast for the bay to freeze so they can head out to hunt for seals all winter. Bring your camera and binoculars. Also, dress warmly because you will be moving in and out from the buggy's outdoor area and the windows will be constantly opening and closing as bears come around for their mug shots.
You can do one-day tundra buggy trips instead of the multiple-day trips offered in package tours from most operators. We booked through Frontiers North in July - planning early is highly recommended.
Suba dive with beluga whales in the Arctic Ocean!
The summer waters of Churchill, Manitoba are home to some 3,000 beluga whales for your viewing.
Here's something a tourist wrote: "Floating facedown in Canada’s frigid Hudson Bay, I watch the scene below me. A pod of nine beluga whales slowly circle beneath, their white blubbery skin reflecting rays of sunlight that have reached the dark depths.
These icy waters near Churchill, Manitoba, are the summer ground for thousands of belugas, and I’m surrounded by the curious giants. Like an alien in another world, I eavesdrop on the squeaks of whale conversation.
Then suddenly, a 14-foot (4.2 m) beluga is beside me, her large doe-like pupils eyeing me up and down. I stop breathing and stare back, trying not to move. Twenty feet away, my friend Heike, who has bravely accompanied me to this outpost in the sub-arctic, has her own encounter with a pod of whales.
Never mind that the water is just 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3C) or that the dry suits we’re wearing over winter jeans and coats make us look like fattened seals. This is an experience we’ll never forget."
There are tour providers that will rent arctic westuits and take you on diving trips with beluga whales. Since there are tousands of them in the area, you're guaranteed to see tons of them. These animals are very friendly and ofter get close enough to touch(but won't hurt you). The waters of the Hudson Bay are very pristine and crystal clear. The water clarity is basically neverending due to the lack of pollution, so you'll be able to view the whales very well.
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Well I think the most popular thing for a visitor to do is to take a Tundra Buggy trip to watch Polar Bears in their natural habitat.
There are a few competing companies, but basically you take a day-long trip in a school bus / monster truck vehicle specially designed to harmlessly drive about the tundra. Chances are good that you will see quite a few Polar Bears, arctic fox, and arctic hares.
I was there in October, 2001 and it was a late summer, which was hard on the Polar Bears who are waiting for the pack ice to move in so they can hunt their primary prey - seals.
This apparently has been the trend for the last few years.
Churchill is also a great place to see Beluga Whales, and in the winter, the Aurora Borealis.
There is also an Eskimo cultural museum.
Right by the side of the track are a small flock of ptarmigan grazing – they are hard to spot as they are white on white. Not like the polar bears which are actually rather yellow against the whiteness of the snow – the ptarmigan are white than white.
The Aussie girl spots an Arctic Hare sitting in amongst the bushes, stretching, scratching and just generally doing what hares normally do. It is too far away to photograph with my little compact camera and anyway, the light is fading fast. That’s one of the things I miss about the SRL – the longer range lens and the flexibility.
Once we’ve had our fill of food, wine and bears, Steve makes his way back to town. We spot a sleeping bear nearby and stop for a closer look. Actually we are not 100% sure whether it is a polar bear or just a rock, even with the spotlight on it, but out on the viewing platform we discover something altogether more spectacular: the sky is full of dancing lights. Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. The whole sky is covered with greenish swathes of light, moving in waves and creating dramatic patterns of illumination. There are curtains of vivid glare appearing to come down to engulf us in the most outer-worldly fashion. Really quite spooky. It varies from an intense flash to a gentle glow and an amazing radiance across the entire sky. The atmosphere is electrifying and almost illusory – like something from the film ‘Close Encounters’. This really is the icing on the cake and there are not enough superlatives to describe the experience. Steve’s favourite word is ‘awesome’, but even that doesn’t seem adequate to express how incredibly fortunate we have been to witness this wonder of nature. David is so thrilled – this has been his ambition for a number of years.
Evening Tundra Buggy Safari
We spot a couple of bears not too far away; one is sleeping, the other just out for an evening stroll. Out on the ice one youngster gets the jitters when he spots us and scampers off. This is the first time that has happened; usually they are totally oblivious to our presence. He is probably too young to be used to lots of large vehicles around. We continue to the same lodge area we were at yesterday, this is obviously where they all congregate. There are several bears here already, and as if on cue, one of them ambles up to the buggy to check us out. He is as curious about us as we are about him. Wonder if he goes back to his mates and tells them about all the cute little humans he has seen today? Just like us with the bears. He sniffs around a bit and Steve shines his spotlight on him for us to see him better. Then it happens, the classic shot that I have been waiting for all the time I have been out here: he stands on his hind legs and tries to peer into the buggy. Wow. He must have been just a foot or so away from Steve’s face. Cameras clicking, we are all uttering sounds of ‘aah’ and ‘ooh’ and ‘gosh’. The bear walks around the buggy a few times, and although it is cold, I decide to go out on the little viewing platform at the back of the buggy. Waiting for what seems like ages out there in the freezing temperatures eventually pays off: I get the magic photo of him on his back legs from straight above. Wow, wow and double wow! I didn’t realise that polar bears are unable to bring their front legs above their heads when standing on their hind legs. Therefore, the highest point of an upright bear is his nose. There’s a bit of useless information you can use in a pub quiz! Our little friend is performing well tonight and does this trick several times in a number of places around the vehicle, giving everyone the chance to capture this amazing display.
We are picked up by John Stetson who runs a Husky Sleigh outfit from the Northern Studies Centre out on the Tundra. The centre is a former US Rocket Launch pad, now used by various scientists studying polar bear behaviour, astronomy and anything else of interest. As this is not part of the normal package, we join a German group of 17 with a most peculiar guide. I can’t make out whether he is gay or just odd. David thinks he is a she. John was the first person to walk right across Antarctica and he has crossed both poles with dog teams. His photos are stunning and he is witty and interesting in his speech. He even claims you get ‘used to constantly feeling cold and uncomfortable’. Really?
From the Research Centre we travel out on the tundra, half the people in a bus, the other half on dog sleds on wheels. The dogs are so excited, the just love to pull the sleds, and they jump up and down, rearing to go. There are two types of huskies, racing dogs who wear little booties to protect their feet and the bigger Inuit dogs. There are 70 dogs in total at the centre, and John knows each dog by its bark. He is currently planning his next jaunt, from Alaska to Greenland and the North Pole. Since his last expedition he has married Shelly and they now have a son, Nelson. Shelly has accompanied John on minor treks, and they are hoping to introduce Nelson to the joys of dog sledding expeditions soon. Once out on the tundra, we take it in turns to go off in ‘proper’ sleds, two at a time. We only travel half a mile or so, and much as the dogs are gorgeous and it’s a fun experience, it is rather commercialised. Back to the centre it is our turn to travel in the sled. I was determined this morning that I would not get cold out here in the dog sleds, so I am dressed in so many layers I waddle when I walk: knickers, tights, leggings, sweat pants, microfibre trousers, cargo trousers, bra, vest, 2xT-shirts, polo-neck jumper, fleece and a thick warm jacket. 2xhats, 2xgloves and a scarf wrapped around my face. I am boiling!
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The Eskimo Museum
In the Eskimo Museum there is nothing older than 70 years, and it isn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. Perhaps if we had received a guided tour talking us from exhibit to exhibit, we might have gotten more out of it. There are plenty of stuffed animals: polar bear of course, ptarmigan, eagle, musk ox, walrus, fox and wolf amongst others. Carvings tell various folk tales and are about the most interesting. I would have loved to have spent some time with Eskimos hearing about their life style and traditions, but that is not part of the itinerary. Some of the more unusual exhibits are carved human teeth. Different.
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