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From The Lodge

Great start to 2012 Polar Bear Photo Safari

This message came in today from Mike Reimer at Seal River Heritage Lodge, where our Polar Bear Photo Safari is in full swing!

Polar Bear Mom with Cubs at Seal River Lodge - Missi Mandel Photo

Polar Bear Mom with Cub at Seal River Lodge - Missy Mandel Photo

This week guests from the US, Netherlands, Germany, France, the UK and Russia are finishing up as a group, and guests from France, Hawaii, Thailand and Taiwan are about to settle in.

Hey all you Polar Bear lovers out there!

Our bear season is once again off to a “roaring start” with wildly variable weather wreaking havoc with flight schedules but nonetheless offering visitors some incredible wildlife opportunities.

Freeze up appears to be right on target as our bears wait patiently for the coming ice, which will once more usher them out to their hunting grounds. The bears are all in excellent condition, no doubt due to the late ice breakup this past summer which gave them good access to seals and continuous hunting opportunities all the way through to the end of July.

Missy Mandel has been kind enough to share some of the fantastic ground level polar bear shots that our ecolodges have become famous for.

 Photo credits to Missy Mandel.

World-class bloggers, writers and videographers highlight Churchill Wild

We’ve had some great coverage by some world-class travel bloggers this year, at both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Below are a few of the stories you may have missed. Enjoy!

Polar bear near Seal River Heritage Lodge Photo Credit: Renee Blodgett

Polar bear near Seal River Heritage Lodge - Photo Credit: Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett, the founder of We Blog the World, Magic Sauce Media and co-founder of Traveling Geeks, wrote about Seal River Heritage Lodge in Canadian Polar Bears on Churchill Wild’s Hudson Bay. Renee wrote a long, wonderful and detailed article. We have included a few excerpts below

I’ve had lunch with a Prince in India’s Rajasthan, crossed the Somalian border by foot, went diving in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, watched gorillas in the Rwanda and Ugandan forests before they opened it up to tourists, ridden an ostrich in Africa and swam with turtles in the Galapagos Islands. And alas, at Churchill Wild, gazed into a polar bear’s eyes through tall grass and was mesmorized by his beauty and fun spirit.

Even though I still get a thrill by visting any new place for the first time as I wrote about recently on my way to Calgary, the bar gets higher the more you’ve traveled. As for top adventure experiences in the world, Churchill Wild ranks up there as one of the top places you should visit in your lifetime, particularly if you love nature and being out in the wild.

There’s something awe-inspiring and breathtaking about seeing polar bears in the wild and watching them in their natural habitat – play, eat, flirt, roll on their backs and yes, even sleep. What makes Churchill Wild so unique is that you are surrounded by a combination of raw beauty and polar bears on every side of you amidst a cool Arctic sky. Like sleeping in the African wild, you cannot go for a leisurely stroll outside the lodge since you may just run into a polar bear when you least expect it. There are roughly 950 of these polar bears along Western Hudson Bay shores and roughly 25,000 Beluga whales in nearby waters.

 Depending on the time of year you head north, you can kayak or swim with the belugas while viewing their adorable dolphin-like faces through a mask.  I jumped off the side of a boat with a dry suit on and did precisely that - the experience was truly incredible. If you head north, be sure to include extra time to hang out with the beluga whales as well — it’s magical to listen to them underwater…a bit like a flock of birds and fish all singing together in unison at the same time. If you’re into native birds, be sure to bring your binoculars since you’re likely to spot some while you’re trekking along the Hudson Bay. If you’re interested in heading north in the summer or fall to hang out with the polar bears and beluga whales, here’s how it works: Read more…

Thanks Renee!

Birgit-Cathrin Duval, aka takkiwrites, a freelance journalist, photographer and author wrote about Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in A Summer with Polar Bears for the German Web site Taz.de. Note, her story is written in German, but if you have the Google Chrome Browser, you can translate it to English.

Below is an edited excerpt from her article translated to English.

We stutter through the completely flat, soggy tundra. All Terrain Vehicles, known as quads, pulling the trailer on which we sit. You can’t get any closer o the wilderness than this. Andy (our Guide) has spotted a bear, a few hundred meters away. We continue to walk. No one speaks. All are banned, waiting for instructions. Andy proceeds, we follow him. Close together, so as not to startle the bear. But the bear has already spotted us. Curious, like a little boy, he lifts his nose. Andy gives a sign we should stand still. He waits. The polar bear has reacted to our presence. He dissociates himself from us. We will not approach further. But the polar bear comes closer. My heart is beating in my throat. Suddenly the bear disappears into the bushes. Nervously, I step on the spot, only the smacking of rubber boots on the muddy ground is heard. Where’s the bear? Two furry ears and a black pair of eyes appear between green bushes. Somehow cuddly. Read more…

Percy Lipinski, of Vancouver B.C. and a member of TripAdvisor.com, compiled some great videos about his trip to Churchill Wild, including this one entitled Churchill Wild Polar Bear Expedition for CNN iReport, and also submitted the video along with another on Beluga Whales to TripAdvisor.com.

“We hooked up with Churchill Wild to track and observe Polar Bears,” said Percy. “Amazing experience… swimming with very large Beluga Whales is something you will never forget. Don’t forget to bring your splash proof cameras.”

Thanks Percy!

And last but certainly not least the Canadian version of  AskMen.com mentioned Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge as part of Cape Tatnum in its Top 10: Isolated Towns. We’re #4!

Thanks to everyone for all the amazing coverage of our polar bear lodges, we really appreciate your insights and efforts. If any of our other guests out there have something they would like to submit: photos, stories, videos, we certainly welcome them here.

Thanks Again!

Manitoba Conservation officials discover large number of new polar bear dens on Hudson Bay coast near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bears relaxing Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bears relaxing near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

It’s probably too early to tell whether a spring Polar Bear Photo Safari is in order for Churchill Wild’s Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, but the recent discovery of a large number of new polar bear dens along the Hudson Bay coast in the vicinity of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge by Manitoba Conservation officials make it a distinct possibility.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located 250 km southeast of Churchill, Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay coast near York Factory, and is currently home to Churchill Wild’s Mothers & Cubs summer polar bear adventure. According to Manitoba Conservation officials, the newly discovered polar bear dens are located in an area southeast of Wapusk National Park and east of the Nelson River, a region along the southern end of the polar bears’ range which is not as well-known as Churchill and other areas to the north.

“At this point we do not have enough information on the number of dens, their locations and if there is any potential for a spring Mothers & Cubs Polar Bear Adventure,” said Rick Kemp, Director of Marketing and Communications at Churchill Wild. “But we do know that Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located in the heart of the newly discovered den sites, and this bodes well for many exceptional polar bear encounters in the years ahead.”

The discovery of the new polar bear dens could indicate that the bear population in the area is in excellent shape, but the Province of Manitoba is undertaking a three-year study to get more detail. An aerial survey released by the Nunavut government recently estimated the polar bear population in the area at 1,000, which was surprising. A survey done in 2004 had predicted the number of polar bears in the area would decline to about 650 in 2011.

The 2004 prediction was based on the fact that the ice covering this particular stretch of Hudson Bay is now present for three weeks less than it was in the past, reducing the time that the polar bears are able to hunt seals, thus affecting their livelihood. Scientists were also worried that climate change would affect the permafrost that the polar bears use to build their dens. Polar bear dens do not collapse on permanently frozen ground, but if warming temperatures cause the permafrost to recede north, the denning areas would be in jeopardy.

“The sheer numbers of polar bears moving up and down the coast past Nanuk indicate a very healthy population,” said Mike Reimer, founder of Churchill Wild. “This has been our best summer to date. Nanuk is located near Cape Tatnum, which is the premier landing site on Hudson Bay for polar bears coming off the last of the summer ice, due to prevailing winds and ocean currents. Once again we experienced a late sea ice break up this year, which gave the bears an excellent opportunity to extend their seal hunt. As a result, we are seeing a lot of polar bears this year that are in exceptional condition.”

“Manitoba Conservation has not indicated that they will base their research study out of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge,” said Kemp. “But we would certainly welcome the opportunity to be part of this important discovery mission. Polar bear populations and their overall health are a concern for us all, as we come to grips with climate change and its impact on these beautiful creatures.”

“Churchill Wild is dedicated to providing life-changing polar bear experiences at our remote wilderness lodges,” continued Kemp. “Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is without a doubt poised to become a “must see” destination for discerning adventure travel enthusiasts.”

There will be five departures for the Mothers & Cubs Polar Bear Adventure at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2013, beginning on August 28 and running through to September 30.

Helen’s Heavenly Cake… And it is!

Helen's Heavenly Cake

Helen's Heavenly Cake

Helen's Heavenly Cake... And it is!

Helen’s Heavenly Cake

This is a basic chocolate cake recipe that lends itself to these two variations of icing, among others.

Cake Ingredients

  • ¾ cup butter or margarine 175 mL
  • 2 cups sugar 500 mL
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 5 mL
  • 2 ½ cups flour 625 mL
  • ½ cup cocoa 125 mL
  • 2 tsp. baking soda 10 mL
  • ½ tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 2 cups buttermilk or sour milk* 500 mL

 

Directions

  1.  To prepare the cake, in a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  2. In another bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  3. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, making three dry and two liquid additions, starting and ending with the flour.  Mix just until blended.
  4. Spread batter in well-greased baking pans, either a 9 x 13” (23 x 33 cm) pan or, two 8” (20 cm) round pans.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.  Let the cake cool in the pan for five minutes before turning out on a rack to cool.

*for sour milk, add 2 tbsp. (30 mL) lemon juice or vinegar to 1 7/8 cups (460 mL) milk.

Jeanne’s Quick Icing

Ingredients

  •  3 ¾ oz pkg. instant chocolate pudding 113 gm
  • 1 cup whipping cream 250 mL

 

Directions

  1. Prepare the pudding according to the package direction.
  2. Whip the cream until stiff.
  3. Fold the whipped cream into the pudding mix and spread over the cooled cake.

 

Jeanne’s Bakery Icing

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup flour 60 mL
  • 1 cup milk 250 mL
  • 1 cup shortening 250 mL
  • 1 cup icing sugar 250 mL
  • ¼ tsp. salt 1 mL
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 10 mL

 

Directions

  1. Blend the flour with ¼ cup of milk in a small saucepan.  Gradually add the remaining milk, stirring to avoid lumps.  It helps to use a whisk.  If, at this point, you do have some lumps, strain them out of your mixture. Cook and stir constantly, over medium-heat, until thick. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, salt and vanilla.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture 1 tbsp. at a time, beating constantly.
  4. Spread over the cake.

*For chocolate icing, melt 1 cup (250 mL) of chocolate chips, let cool slightly and add after step 3. 

From the best-selling Blueberries & Polar Bears Cookbook Series

Mother Daughter time at North Knife Lake Lodge

Guest Post by Nina Williams

The stress melted away as soon as we stepped off the plane and began the walk up the sandy path to beautiful North Knife Lake Lodge. My daughter Arielle and I had been here before, so we knew what to expect, and we were so looking forward to it.

Smiles all around for another Northern Pike!

Smiles all around for another Northern Pike!

We were heartily greeted by lodge owners Doug and Helen Webber, settled into our room and had a quick bite to eat before heading out for a gorgeous afternoon of fishing. On the first day my husband George was in the boat with us. We kicked him out of the boat after that. It wasn’t a mean thing, but there was another pro guide available for George, and besides, Arielle and I wanted to fish together. Our guide, Ryan, was perfect for us. We’re not elite fisherman, but we have our share of Master Angler Awards and we can hold our own. And, well…

It was such a great feeling to get back out on to North Knife Lake, a spectacularly pristine 30-mile long body of water deep in the wilderness 200 miles north of Thompson, Manitoba.

The thing I enjoyed most about the trip was giving our daughter Arielle the chance to do things that few children her age ever get to experience. Being on a float plane, exploring the wilderness, catching fish – and lots of them – in a lake with water so pure a clean you can drink from it. Many of Arielle’s friends take holidays, but not like this — far from civilization, in a true wilderness, yet with all the comforts of home, including a family-type atmosphere, which is something we especially enjoy. You just can’t help but rejuvenate and revitalize, it comes naturally with the surroundings.

Arielle learned how to cast on this trip, how to pick a target and land her lure on it. She didn’t really like trolling, so Ryan would let the boat drift along the shore and she would try to hit spots along the banks, underneath branches, over sandbars, just off rocky ledges. By the end of the trip she was quite the caster! And of course she loved catching the fish too!

The water was so clear you could see the fish swimming up to the boat. We caught a lot of fish everyday and I added another Master Angler Lake Trout to my collection. It’s all catch and release, except for the fish we kept for shore lunches that included delicious Baked Lake Trout, Sweet and Sour Pike and Fish Tacos.

Arielle loves to take pictures of anything and everything outdoors and she had a field day on this trip with photos of fish, bugs, flowers and even a bald eagle. She also especially enjoyed watching Head Guide Kent Michie and his hunting dogs do fetching exercises on the lake.

A few of the guests went swimming on the shore lunches, but we weren’t quite as brave. We swam in the lake near the lodge and Arielle and fellow guest Elliot, who was about the same age, even went tubing on one sunny afternoon. The water near the lodge was beautiful. It’s difficult to describe just how much of a stress reliever swimming in a lake in the middle of nowhere can be. Let’s just say it works!

Being at North Knife Lake Lodge is a complete change from everyday life. What we really like about it is the fact that we don’t have to do anything. There’s no everyday planning, no meetings to attend, no appointments to keep. We just show up to a wonderful breakfast at 7:30, walk down to the dock, get into the boat with our guide and off we go out on to the lake for what is always a fabulous day of fishing. After that we return to the lodge for cocktails and appetizers and a gourmet meal prepared by Helen Webber, who also happens to be the co-author of the Blueberries & Polar Bears Cookbook Series. We own all of the books in the series, and they are the best cookbooks we’ve ever owned.

Helen used many of the recipes from the cookbooks, but also tried some new creations that were equally as scrumptious. Her imaginative dishes were greatly appreciated by all the guests, including Gemini Incorporated founder Jim Weinel and his board members, who were also at the lodge when we were there.

The Gemini board members take a fishing trip every year and they have been to exclusive lodges all over the world. They said the food at North Knife Lake Lodge tied for first place with a lodge in Mexico and another in B.C.  We wholeheartedly agree! A fascinating group of very intelligent individuals with diversified backgrounds and impeccable manners, we really enjoyed the company of the Gemini board.

The people we have met at North Knife Lake Lodge over the years have always been exceptional, and that includes owners, guests and staff. The family-run lodge is comfortable, like home. We always feel so welcome. A sincere thank you to the Webber family for yet another fabulous fishing vacation at North Knife Lake Lodge! Stress free, first class…

and a great place to bond with my daughter.