• Polar Encounter

    Frontiers North

    Polar Encounter

    CANADA

    A close encounter with Churchill's polar bears_Frontiers NorthLeanne Hudson headed to Canada to meet our largest land carnivores on their home turf.

    Pulling into Churchill bleary-eyed after 52 sleepless hours on the famously late Hudson Bay train, I glanced anxiously up and down the handful of streets that form the town. Perched on the edge of icy Hudson Bay in Canada’s far north, tiny Churchill is home to around 900 people - and the largest polar bear population outside the Arctic Circle.

    The bears gather here from late September to November waiting for the Bay to freeze over so they can access their hunting grounds, after going without food all summer.

    Bumping into a hungry, 350kg polar bear as I walked to my hotel was not what I wanted. I’d read how they sometimes amble around town looking for garbage but I was quite happy to see them from the comfort of my Tundra Buggy tour the following day.

    I held my breath as a mum and two cubs approached our big metal box on 1.7metre-high wheels, as curious about us as we were about them. Next came a lone ranger, padding across the tundra on paws as big as cushions, huge head held high as he sniffed the air. Then a mum arrived, watching carefully as one cub sniffed a buggy’s tyre while a second pawed at the undercarriage.

    Standing on deck in the bright winter sun, watching as these wild animals went about their daily business, it was hard to believe I was seeing it with my own eyes. I was close enough to glimpse their teeth when they yawned, watch their chests move as they breathed and even see their tiny eyes blinking. And all this in their natural habitat - not a zoo. Gasps of amazement from my fellow bear spotters showed they were just as awestruck as I was.

    This part of the world is wild and windswept. Stunted trees and shrubs cling to life, while ptarmigans (Arctic grouse) and Arctic foxes seek shelter among the rocks. But the barren tundra beneath a vast, clear sky is beautiful in its own way. Add the allure of polar bears and the Northern Lights and it’s well worth the 1800km rail journey (or three-hour flight from Winnipeg - there is no road to Churchill), even if you are in economy!

    A couple of curious polar bears_Leanne Hudson