With luck, you can spot polar bears on a summer voyage through the Svalbard archipelago, or by venturing to the Arctic coastal fringes of Alaska or Russia. But nowhere can compete with Churchill – a frontier town on the shores of Hudson Bay – for almost guaranteed sightings of the ice bear.
Timing is crucial. The bears gather on the bay’s tundra shore waiting for the sea to freeze over so they can move out onto the ice to hunt seals. Peak months are October and November when it’s not unusual to see half a dozen bears in a single outing.
Bear safaris in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area take place in polar rovers – custom-built, giant wheeled buses that advance ponderously (and with minimal impact) across the tundra. Sliding windows and an outdoor platform ensure superb (and safe) views of the bears, which often approach the rovers, standing on their hindlegs to stare up at the occupants. Coming face to face with the world’s largest land predator is a humbling and unforgettable experience, but equally rewarding is the sight of these magnificent creatures roaming the wild, bleak expanse of the Hudson Bay coast. You may see them foraging through kelp piled deep on pebbly coves by autumn gales, or sleeping under wind-pruned thickets of willow. Where several male bears gather in the same location, they often engage in play fights, hugging, shoving and cuffing one another.
For the ultimate polar bear experience at Churchill, book a night in the Tundra Lodge. Sleeping up to 36 people, this static ‘train’ of wheeled cabins is stationed close by the shore of Hudson Bay deep in polar bear territory.
WHEN TO GO: October-November is peak season for polar bears; May-June for geese migration; summer for beluga whales
OTHER WILDLIFE: Arctic fox, caribou, gyrfalcon, snowy owl, willow ptarmigan
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