Polar Bears of Churchill

Tundra Buggy Lodge - the very best

The Polar Bears of Hudson Bay are famous for their mock fighting in the period before they return to the ice. (image by Mark Beaman)

The Polar Bears of Hudson Bay are famous for their mock fighting in the period before they return to the ice. (image by Mark Beaman)


Monday 6th November - Monday 13th November 2017
(8 days)

Second departure: Saturday 11th November - Saturday 18th November (8 days)
Cape Churchill Expedition: Thursday 16th November - Monday 27th November (12 days)
Leader: a Tundra Buggy Lodge Photo Specialist
Group Size Limit: 20 per Tundra Buggy (10 for Cape Churchill)
Tour Category: No walking and pretty comfortable accommodations


Of all the wonderful creatures that stalk this Earth of ours, the Polar Bear surely ranks in the Top 10 Most Amazing for the majority of us. This animal is not only a Super Predator, and as such awe-inspiring in itself, but it also lives an extraordinary life, spending well over half its existence on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. In recent decades its plight, as the world warms and the Arctic ice inexorably retreats, has moved the hearts of millions and the Polar Bear has become the emblem of all that we are going to lose if we let these changes go on unchecked.

For the wildlife photographer, getting close to this remarkable animal and taking stunning images is a popular ambition, but in most places one encounters Polar Bears they are rather distant and one is typically either watching them from a boat or hurried away by the expedition guides if on land.

How very different it is at Churchill, not for nothing known as 'The Polar Bear Capital of the World'. Here, each autumn, Polar Bears gather in large numbers prior to going out onto the newly-forming ice of Hudson Bay. They have gathered here since long before the human epoch, let alone the coming of the railway line from the praories and the construction of the port of Churchill to ship out Canadian wheat to a hungry world. The bears gather here because the area around Churchill is, owing to a combination of coastal geography, freshwater from rivers and the current system of Hudson Bay, the very first place that the sea-ice reforms in November. After the long, long fast from June when they must go ashore on the tundra, they are very hungry indeed and keen to get out and hunt seals again at the earliest opportunity.

Not only are there large numbers of Polar Bears present here every autumn, but the social interactions are unusually fascinating. Hudson Bay is unique in that 'sparring' between male Polar Bears is commonplace here, rather than uncommon, and these mock fights that start of with wrestling and often end up with two giant animals reared up on their hind legs and wrestling, punching, slapping and biting each other, are one of the things that makes the bear photography here truly remarkable.

As well as showing a lot of interesting social behaviour, the Churchill Polar Bears are endlessly curious. Indeed intense curiousity and a desire to immediately check out new things in their world is a mark of Polar Bears. This used to get them into trouble when they got inside Churchill town, which used to happen much more often in the days before folk became much more careful about food waste. Nowadays the vast majority stay out on the tundra. However, once a vehicle shows up, that curiousity comes to the fore and, often enough, over they come. Sometimes it will just be to circumambulate the Tundra Buggy, at other times they may rear up and put those huge paws on the side of the vehicle, staring into your face just a metre or less away. Or they may go underneath and peer up through the snow grille in the back tray of the buggy at the strange creatures above them (you can even feel their breath on your face if you get close!). If they are really naughty young males it is time to gnaw at the tyres or pull out the rubber-surrounded tail lights and bat them around on the ice...

If this all sounds simply magical, well it is, and Tundra Buggy Lodge is the ultimate way to experience the best of Churchill.

Tundra Buggy Lodge consists of a 'train' of Tundra-Buggy-like vehicles fastened together to form a movable lodge. The individual components are much larger than the Tundra Buggies themselves and consist of two sleeping compartments (holding up to 20 people each), a bar/lounge/lecture theatre, a dining and kitchen area, and staff quarters.

The lodge is sited far out in the tundra, many kilometres from Churchill itself, and is the perfect base for wildlife photographers (the only other lodge in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area has, in our view, a less favourable location and is much closer to town.

The huge advantage of staying out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area is that you are living right out there with the Polar Bears (indeed there are almost always some near the lodge itself and sometimes you can wake up and look out of your window and see one or two right outside!). This means that the entire day, from around sunrise to around subnset, can be devoted to looking for, watching and photographing these marvellous animals. If you stay in the town, at least 4 hours of the short November day is spent travelling to and from the best bear area, and you not only miss nearly half the daylight but you also miss the best light conditions early and late in the day. If you are serious about photographing the Churchill Polar Bears, there is no better way to go than basing yourself at Tundra Buggy Lodge.

The sleeping accommodation has been attractively renovated with pine interiors. There are 20 sleeping berths per compartment, with lower and upper bunks (the bunk beds are quite wide as bunks go and very comfortable). There is a ceiling to floor privacy curtain for each set of two bunks and an interior curtain for each bunk. There is room for luggage under the bunks and elsewhere. Several toilets and showers are available and these are clean and modern.

The lodge provides filling and tasty meals at breakfast and dinner. Breakfasts are self-service, dinners waiter-served. Lunches are picnics on board the Tundra Buggy and these generally consist of hot soup and sandwiches. A glass of wine is provided with dinner, but as there is no general alcohol license at the lodge (it would be impracticable for just a few weeks use a year) you need to stock up in Churchill with anything you fancy. There is time for this on arrival. There is a large lounge area that also doubles up as a lecture theatre.

The Tundra Buggies themselves have 20 rows of double seats (about 10 on each side), but these expeditions take a maximum of 20 (or 10 at Cape Churchill), so there is a lot of room. The best place for photography is often the open 'tray' at the back, where you can have an almost 360 degrees view (there being just a small 'blindspot' at the front). Inside the buggy, all the side windows have an opening section at the top and these can be great for photography too, especially if it is windy outside. A bean bag will be very useful.

The Tundra Buggies are the most manoeverable of the polar vehicles in use at Churchill and can get into places that others that are heavier cannot, including onto thinner ice or through deeper water! They may not have the most comfortable seats around (they are like old-fashioned bus seats), but these are quick to get out of when a good subject appears! They have a large gas heater that keeps the interior reasonably comfortable even when the windows are open and is perfect for warming your hands at after a long session outside on the tray. All in all we consider them the superior Churchill tundra vehicles for the serious photographer.

As well as offering 8-day expeditions based at Polar Bear Point in Churchill Wildlife Management Area to the east of Churchill itself, the movable Tundra Buggy Lodge also provides the opportunity for a unique 12-days expedition to Cape Churchill, much further east and inside Wapusk National Park. This is the only way to access this magnificent area for Polar Bear photography and each Tundra Buggy during this special expedition is limited to just 10 participants. Cape Churchill is legendary for its Polar Bear experiences, which often feature huge males.

Itinerary (Polar Bear Point/Churchill Wildlife Management Area)

Day 1:  Guests will arrive in Winnipeg and check into the Four Points Sheraton at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. In the evening, our specialist guide will host a welcome dinner for guests to meet and discuss the trip itinerary.

Day 2:  We will depart on an early morning flight to Churchill. Upon arrival, we’ll take part in a town and area tour of Churchill, including a stop at Churchill’s Eskimo Museum. After lunch in Churchill, guests will be transferred to the Tundra Buggy Launch site, after which we will set off on the journey to the Tundra Buggy Lodge, watching for wildlife along the way. Once we arrive at the lodge, guests will have time to settle into their new 'home away from home’ before being served a home-cooked meal by our lodge staff.

Days 3-6:  The next four days will be spent out on the tundra. After breakfast, guests will head out on the Tundra Buggy, away from the lodge, searching for polar bears and other wildlife. Professional interpretive guides will provide expert photography tips and nature interpretation. Evenings will be spent enjoying delicious home cooked meals, watching slide presentations, socializing and watching the night sky for Northern Lights.

Day 7:  After breakfast, the group will depart the lodge, participating on the last Tundra Buggy expedition, meandering slowly along the way. Upon arrival at launch, guests will be transferred directly to the airport for an evening flight back to Winnipeg. Guests will check into the Four Points Sheraton hotel at the Winnipeg airport.

Day 8:  Guests may depart Winnipeg at their leisure.

Cape Churchill Expedition Itinerary (12 days)

Day 1:  Guests will arrive in Winnipeg and check into the Four Points Sheraton at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. An evening meet and greet will be arranged by our interpretive guide to fill guests in on the trip itinerary.

Day 2:  Guests will depart on an early morning flight to Churchill. Upon arrival, we’ll set out on a Churchill town and area tour. After lunch in Churchill, guests will be transferred to the Tundra Buggy Launch site, after which we will set off on the journey to the Tundra Buggy Lodge, watching for wildlife along the way. Once we arrive at the lodge, guests will have time to settle into their new 'home away from home’ before being served a delicious home-cooked meal by our lodge staff.

Days 3-9:  The upcoming days at the Tundra Buggy Lodge will provide an experience that few others are able to enjoy.  As ice and trail conditions permit, the lodge will be disassembled for the 30-kilometer expedition to Cape Churchill inside Wapusk National Park.  Guests will stay at the Tundra Buggy Lodge for eight incredible nights.  Enjoy excursions to view and photograph wildlife during the day, and delicious home cooked meals and presentations in the evening. Cape Churchill guests will have plenty of time in the evenings to socialize, share photos and watch the night sky for the phenomenal northern lights.

Day 10:  After breakfast, guests will board our Tundra Buggy and begin the journey back to the Tundra Buggy Launch, with plenty of wildlife viewing along the way. We will spend the night at a Churchill hotel and enjoy a delicious meal at a locally owned restaurant.

Day 11:  Guests will be transferred to the Churchill airport for a morning departure to Winnipeg, where they will check into the Four Points Sheraton. This day is free for guests to explore Winnipeg.

Day 12:  Guests may depart Winnipeg at their leisure.

Accommodation & Road Transport: Comfortable hotels in Winnipeg and Churchill. The Tundra Buggy Lodge is described above. The limited road transport at Churchill itself is by bus, but for most of the time we will be using a Tundra Buggy.

Walking: There is effectively no walking on this tour!

Climate: Cold or very cold. There is usually a mixture of overcast and sunny weather and some snow is likely.

Photographic Equipment: A 200mm or 300mm will often be the most useful lens, but we also recommend a lens in the 400-600mm range for more distant bears, bear portraits and other wildlife (Arctic Foxes, Ptarmigan etc.). If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative. Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with a 20x or higher  optical zoom. You can often get so close to bears here that a smartphone can take stunning shots! If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.

Prices are provisional

Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike many tour operators who are still showing prices based on hugely higher and very outdated pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assurred that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is a significant recovery by the Pound you will receive the benefit by way of a price reduction.

Tour Price: CAD$9049 (£5261, €6241, $6908) plus 6.0% tax for non-Canadians of CAD$543 (£316, €374, $415) Winnipeg/Winnipeg. Cape Churchill Expedition: CAD$11799 (£6860, €8137, $9007) plus 6.0% tax for non-Canadians of CAD$708 (£412, €488, $540) Winnipeg/Winnipeg.

Kindly note that this tour is priced in Canadian Dollars (prices in Pounds Sterling, Euros and US Dollars are only indicative and based on the exchange rates prevailing at the time of calculation: £1 = CAD$ 1.72, Euro 1 = CAD$1.45, US$1 = CAD$1.31). If you are paying in Pounds Sterling, Euros or US Dollars your deposit and final balance payment due will be calculated according to the exchange rate prevailing at the time.

Price includes all transportation (including the remarkably expensive Winnipeg-Churchill return flights), all accommodations, all meals, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, leader services.

Gratuities for the Tundra Buggy Lodge staff and guides are not included. We suggest you allow at least CAD$350 per person (CAD$500 for the Cape Churchill Expedition). As you will see, the staff work very hard to ensure guests have a great time on the tundra.

Single Room Supplement: CAD$265 (£154, €183, $202) including 6% tax for non-Canadians (Winnipeg hotel nights only). Cape Churchill Expedition: CAD$477 (£277, €329, $364) including 6% tax for non-Canadians (Winnipeg hotel nights only).

Deposit: 15% of the tour price (including any single room supplement).

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Polar Bears gather near the shoreline in late autumn, waiting for the ice to form in November. (image by Mark Beaman)

Polar Bears gather near the shoreline in late autumn, waiting for the ice to form in November. (image by Mark Beaman)

Getting images of the bears walking on fresh ice is a wonderful feature of November. Some are still stained yellowish-brown from their long summer sojourn on the tundra. (image by Mark Beaman)

Getting images of the bears walking on fresh ice is a wonderful feature of November. Some are still stained yellowish-brown from their long summer sojourn on the tundra. (image by Mark Beaman)

With the sun low in the sky, the dawn and dusk periods around Polar Bear Point can be awesome for photography. (image by Mark Beaman)

With the sun low in the sky, the dawn and dusk periods around Polar Bear Point can be awesome for photography. (image by Mark Beaman)

By staying out at Tundra Buggy Lodge you can be with the bears at sunrise and sunset, unlike those staying in Churchill town. (image by Mark Beaman)

By staying out at Tundra Buggy Lodge you can be with the bears at sunrise and sunset, unlike those staying in Churchill town. (image by Mark Beaman)

Young bears greet each other at sunrise. (image by Mark Beaman)

Young bears greet each other at sunrise. (image by Mark Beaman)

Much of the time the bears are calm but curious, often coming very close. (image by Mark Beaman)

Much of the time the bears are calm but curious, often coming very close. (image by Mark Beaman)

But when young males get together they do love to wrestle. (image by Mark Beaman)

But when young males get together they do love to wrestle. (image by Mark Beaman)

Then things get a bit more lively... (image by Mark Beaman)

Then things get a bit more lively... (image by Mark Beaman)

Until you get The Full Monty when they rear up on their hind legs and wrestle, punch and bite, but never do much harm to each other. (image by Mark Beaman)

Until you get The Full Monty when they rear up on their hind legs and wrestle, punch and bite, but never do much harm to each other. (image by Mark Beaman)

I can throw a mean punch when I want to... (image by Mark Beaman)

I can throw a mean punch when I want to... (image by Mark Beaman)

But most of all the bears long to return to the ice to feed. This bear had gone out on the newly-forming ice and caught a seal, only to have the wind turn and the ice break up, leaving it with a desperate, exhausting struggle to regain the shore through a thick 'soup' of small pieces of ice and water. (image by Mark Beaman)

But most of all the bears long to return to the ice to feed. This bear had gone out on the newly-forming ice and caught a seal, only to have the wind turn and the ice break up, leaving it with a desperate, exhausting struggle to regain the shore through a thick 'soup' of small pieces of ice and water. (image by Mark Beaman)

The first thing it did, before settling down to sleep, was shake off all that freezing water. (image by Mark Beaman)

The first thing it did, before settling down to sleep, was shake off all that freezing water. (image by Mark Beaman)

There is something magical yet disturbing when a Polar Bear stares up at you through the buggy's snow-clearing grille and is only a few inches away... (image by Mark Beaman)

There is something magical yet disturbing when a Polar Bear stares up at you through the buggy's snow-clearing grille and is only a few inches away... (image by Mark Beaman)

X

e-Newsletter Signup

Keep up-to-date with all the latest news from our tours around the world as well as other news and competitions with our quarterly e-Newsletter.

Sign up filling in the fields below. All form fields are required.

Your Contact Details
  • To help us reduce the amount of spam we receive please answer the simple sum: