When one hears the term “white giants” followed by the name Churchill, the image of a lumbering polar bear is conjured up in the mind’s eye. What is often forgotten is that this diminutive town rests on a spit of land that juts into the Hudson Bay, bordered on its western flank by a fertile estuary. In the summer, white giants of another sort frequent the briny waters in the thousands: beluga whales. After most of the bears have returned south, the lively leviathans congregate here to feast and to calve. These marine mammals are but one example of the myriad of fauna found here, which includes an astonishing array of birdlife and over 500 species of arctic wildflowers and boreal plants. Come experience the sweet surprise that is Manitoba.
Moderately Active. May involve some moderate hikes in forests and nature reserves, getting in and out of vehicles and rocking boats, and walking in uneven pavement in archaeological sites, in some cases in extreme weather conditions, heat, high elevation and humidity.
Since the purpose of taking this tour is to see the beluga whales, the birds and the flowering tundra in the summer, the ideal time to visit is between July 15th and August 15th. There’s a very short window to see the belugas who come in the thousands in the Churchill River estuary.
Arrive in Winnipeg and transfer to your hotel. Meet your fellow travelers and professional naturalist, during a briefing and lecture. Enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel. HILTON SUITES HOTEL.WINNIPEG. (D)
Begin today’s exploration of Winnipeg with a visit to the Manitoba Museum which houses a dynamic collection including a full-sized replica of the Nonsuch whose 1668 voyage lead to the founding of the Hudson Bay Company. This afternoon fly to Churchill in the rugged wilds of northeastern Manitoba. This small town of some 800 full-time residents occupies a peninsula embraced by the Churchill River and the Hudson Bay. Occupied for centuries by indigenous peoples, the first Europeans took advantage of its location and used it as a fur trading post as well as a whaling community. With the decline of the fur trade and whaling, Churchill has continued to avail itself of its locale owing to its proximity to the traditional migration route of the polar bears and for the yearly gathering of beluga whales. From October through mid-November, more than 1,200 bears journey from their summer ranges along the bay south of Churchill up to the capes for their annual hunt for seals and in the summer belugas congregate in the thousands at Hudson Bay to feed on capelin and Lake Cisco fish and give birth to their young. In 1978 the Cape Churchill Wildlife Management Area was established to protect the ecology of the polar bear. Your comfortable Inn is located within steps of Churchill’s restaurants, bars, shopping and recreation facilities. It offers quality accommodation with northern hospitality. Each spacious room offers private facilities. AURORA INN OR SIMILAR. (B,D)
Begin your day with a beluga whale watching excursion on the Hudson Bay. During the summer months, pods of these gentle giants congregate in the briny waters of the Churchill River estuary. Here, mother and calf can be seen gliding just below the surface. Large males, which can reach an estimated weight of 3,500 pounds and 18 feet in length, may swim along the side of your boat. Curious and intelligent, you may observe them observing you as they rotate on their side for a better view. Listen as a hydrophone is lowered into the water, and hear the complex vocalizations that have earned the beluga the nickname sea canary. Continue on to the historic Fort Prince of Wales across the river from the town of Churchill. This impressive star pattern, stone fortress was built by the Hudson Bay Company to protect its fur trading interests. Finish the day with a leisurely coastal drive to discover some of the other colorful characters of northern Manitoba. In particular, birders will be driving into a landscape that is ornamented by as much as 225 identified species. You may, as well, encounter caribou, fox and hare. In the evening, if conditions are perfect, you may witness the kaleidoscopic undulations of the Aurora Borealis, although it is not prime time for this event. AURORA INN OR SIMILAR. (B,L,D)
Rove across the prairie in a state of the art tundra vehicle on a half day excursion onto the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. You may spy lone polar bears slowly making their way back to the summer grounds, or an arctic fox hiding amid the explosion of colorful wildflowers. The summers are short here but over 400 plant species make the most of it. Keep an eye out for the more elusive residents such as gray wolf, black bear, lemming, shrew, and the boreal chorus and wood frog, respectively. Optional helicopter voyages that offer panoramic views of the prairie, boreal forest and Churchill can be arranged. AURORA INN OR SIMILAR. (B,L,D)
Take a short morning drive to Bird Cove for an exceptional bird watching experience. Look for raptors such as Snowy Owl, hawk, Gyrfalcon and Peregrine Falcon. Tundra Swan are common, as are tern and gull. Search for Harlequin Duck and the rare Ross’s Gull for the sighting of a lifetime. In the afternoon return to the world of the beluga to watch as they frolic in the bay. While cruising look out for seal, river otter, and the mustachioed and toothy walrus, which can outweigh a beluga by as much as 200 pounds (but who’s counting). AURORA INN OR SIMILAR. (B,L,D)
This morning you will tour the town of Churchill and visit the Eskimo Museum dedicated to the history of the Inuit and life in the Arctic, which includes an exquisite collection of contemporary Inuit art. Fly back to Winnipeg midmorning, where the rest of your day is at leisure. Tonight, enjoy a farewell dinner at your hotel. HILTON SUITES HOTEL WINNIPEG. (B,D)
After you take in a parting Canadian breakfast, make your way to the airport, taking with you the memories and experiences of the gentle belugas and the rugged beauty of Churchill, Manitoba. (B)
Does not include international or domestic flights. Prices are based on 10 or more travelers, and are subject to change.
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