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Posts Tagged ‘polar bear tour’

Nursing professor learns, loves and laughs with polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by +George Williams, Photos courtesy of Jo Eland

Jo Eland gives polar bears a rest at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Nina Williams photo.

Jo gives the polar bears a rest.

“When you brush your teeth make sure you spit in the fire, otherwise the grizzlies will come in.”

That’s what professional photographer Robert Postma told Jo Eland while rough camping along the Dempster Highway in Canada’s Yukon a few years ago. Jo got no such advice last year when walking with polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, but she likely didn’t need it, as polar bears and grizzlies are two very different animals.

She did however, appreciate the insights and education she received from polar bear guides Andy McPherson and Albert (Butch) Saunders while at Nanuk.

“The knowledge of the guides at Nanuk was impressive,” said Jo. “And even though we were on the ground within 100 yards of a polar bear at different times, at no time did we ever feel unsafe or insecure. They watched the bears like hawks.”

Polar bear walks the Hudson bay coast at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

And my heart didn’t skip a beat once. Well, maybe once. ~ Jo Eland

A highly educated (PhD RN FAAN FNAP) Associate Professor of Nursing at The University of Iowa, Jo admitted she wasn’t quite prepared for walking with polar bears when she arrived at Nanuk, but she soon embraced the adventure.

“After looking at the photos on the Web site, we thought the bears would come right up to the fence,” said Jo. “We never thought we would be walking out to the polar bears, but it was exhilarating to get so close to them in their own environment. And my heart didn’t skip a beat once. Well, maybe once.”

While bears do come up to the fence that surrounds the Lodge (and interrupt meals) on a regular basis, especially black bears, on most days at Nanuk the guests are out traversing the mudflats in the “Tundra Rhino” tracking polar bears, enjoying the vast stress-relieving landscapes of the Hudson Bay Coast. Jo particularly enjoyed the day trips, despite losing a boot in the mud one day.

Jo Eland taking photos of polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Jo Eland ~ Polar Bear Photographer.

“One of my boots came off when we were walking out to a polar bear, but it was my own fault. You need proper fitting boots, which the Lodge does provide. I brought my own and they were too big. I stumbled a bit but Nolan (Director of Lodge Operations) grabbed my arm and helped me out. My camera gear was okay, I was okay, and we just kept on going.”

Actually, we think Jo’s comment at the time went something along the lines of, “I’m still here aren’t I! It’ll take more than that to stop this old gal!”

Polar bear relaxing on a gravel bar at Nanuk. Jo Eland photo.

Polar bear relaxing on a gravel bar at Nanuk.

Considering her background as a specialist in pain management, and some of the work trips she has taken over the past 25 years, Jo’s comments were not unexpected. This winter, her and her students spent three weeks in India working with the poor in a hospice, while also taking photographs for the families.

“I’ve been going to India for five years now,” said Jo. “Most of the people have no family photos, no photos at all. So I combine my passion for photography with my passion for helping people. Eighty percent of the people we see there live below the poverty line. This year we took a picture of a mother and her disabled daughter, whom she had cared for since the age of four, 37 years. They had no photo of themselves together. It really makes you appreciate your lot in life.”

Prior to her trips to India, Jo had been traveling to Italy for 20 years, utilizing her medical skills to assist in children’s hospitals. Jo has now spent a total of 27 years working with children with cancer. Such a career, while immensely satisfying, can take a toll on a person.

Northern Lights over Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

Northern Lights over Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

“Trips like Mothers & Cubs are much needed,” said Jo. “They free your mind. You can’t see and do India without clearing your head later on trips like Nanuk. I’ve done a lot of living in my 66 years, but this was my first time seeing the polar bears and I loved every minute of it.”

“Getting that close to the bears was marvelous,” continued Jo. “But it was much more than that. The people, not only the other guests on the trip, but the Lodge staff, were remarkable. The staff at the Lodge had an excellent work ethic and an exceptional desire to please. You just don’t find that anywhere. I’ve been to hundreds of 5-star hotels and I’ve never been looked after like I was at Nanuk. And to top it off, when we left the Lodge to fly out on the final day, the pilot did a few extra circles over the polar bears for us, so we could get a few more photos. Who does that?”

Jo also admired the ingenuity and creativity it took to build a Lodge in the Artic, and the owner’s commitment to the environment and to those less fortunate in the area.

“If a piece of garbage had floated in off the Bay, the guides would always stop to pick it up,” said Jo. “And there was their commitment to the less fortunate, which included personally delivering excess meat from hunters in the area to a food shelter in Gillam, where it would find its way to elders who couldn’t hunt anymore.”

Some of that meat might also make it into specialized dishes at the Lodge, such as moose stew in a bread bowl.

“I’m pretty picky about my food,” said Jo. “And I’d never seen that before, or tasted anything like it. The food was fascinating, interesting and excellent.”

Godwits at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland Photo.

Godwits at Nanuk.

An experienced photographer, Jo took a 400 mm lens with her on the trip, but said that many in the group were simply using point and shoot cameras and getting good photos.

“One of the guests in our group, Mandy from Australia I think, was using an iPhone,” said Jo. “And she was having a great time. Robert Postma was leading the group, and both he and I attached our lenses to some of the cameras belonging to the others in the group, so they could get some close-up shots. When I showed people our photos, they couldn’t believe we were on the ground walking with polar bears. It was such a privilege being on their turf and getting so close to them. I don’t think people really appreciate what it’s like to get that close to polar bears in their own environment.”

The highlight of the trip for Jo came on the final day.

“The guides spotted a polar bear on a sand bar,” said Jo. “We walked out to her as a group, and she posed for us for hours, cleaning her paws, rolling over… We learned, loved and laughed. It really was, the experience of a lifetime.”

Polar bear sitting on gravel bar at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

Final day polar bear posing for the group.

New Zealand couple wins trip to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by +George Williams

Photos courtesy of Bob and Lynne Croy

Churchill Wild is proud to announce that the winners of the Great Ice Bear Adventure 20th Anniversary Contest and a trip for two to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge are Bob and Lynne Croy of Wakefield, New Zealand.

Congratulations Bob and Lynne! We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Great Ice Bear Anniversary Contest winners Bob and Lynne Croy at Dymond Lake Lodge.

Great Ice Bear Anniversary Contest winners Bob and Lynne Croy at Dymond Lake Lodge.

Extensive travelers since retiring eight years ago after 31 years of operating a service station, the couple had already been on safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa before traveling to Canada for the Great Ice Bear Adventure last November with Churchill Wild.

“We had dreamed about the Great Ice Bear Adventure for so long,” said Lynne. “And it turned out to be an amazing trip.”

“We had actually sent an inquiry to Mike Reimer at Churchill Wild many years ago and we were going to go but we had some issues at the station and couldn’t make it work,” said Bob. “We kept that letter all this time and showed it to Nolan (Director of Lodge Operations at Churchill Wild) when we arrived at Dymond Lake.”

The couple turned their Great Ice Bear Adventure into a month-long Canadian vacation, beginning with a flight from New Zealand to Vancouver. They then went to Victoria for a few days before flying to Winnipeg and on to Churchill, where they boarded their flight to Dymond Lake Lodge on a cold Canadian November day.

The polar bears soon warmed them up.

First polar bear on Great Ice Bear Adventure, Dymond Lake Lodge, Manitoba, Canada.

First polar bear at Dymond Lake!

“It’s generally 25 degrees or better where we are,” said Lynne. “My husband always wears shorts, and I had never worn ski pants, but we were well prepared, even when it got to 37 below. We had our Merino Wool layers, ski pants and jackets and we were out to see a polar bear on our very first day at the Lodge.”

“It was very special to get so close to such a large animal in the wild,” continued Lynne. “We were surprised at how big they were! We spent a lot of time photographing that first polar bear. It was a wonderful experience.”

“There were quite a few white foxes about too,” said Bob. “One day, while out walking, we came upon a sleeping bear, and two Arctic foxes ran out and startled him. The bear jumped up quickly and that was quite a sight from up close! But we always felt safe when out walking. The guides were extremely professional.”

Arctic foxes getting ready to wake up a sleeping giant polar bear at Dymond Lake.

Arctic foxes getting ready to wake up a sleeping giant.

The couple and their fellow travelers on the Great Ice Bear Adventure also enjoyed a beautiful evening of aurora borealis displays while at the Lodge.

“We had a lovely mix of people with us,” said Lynne. “A fabulous group, we’re still exchanging photos and videos from the trip. And the food was amazing. We bought their Blueberries and Polar Bears Cookbook and fully intend to use it.”

And their trip wasn’t over when they flew back to Churchill from the Lodge. The Croys also spent two days on the Tundra Buggies and then added in a dogsledding adventure. “Doreen (Adventure Specialist at Churchill Wild) arranged that for us,” said Lynn. “She was very helpful and it was a lot of fun!”

Polar bears at Dymond Lake Lodge.

You know I can still see you, right?

Continuing on with adventurous nature of their trip, the Croys took the train from Churchill to Winnipeg instead of flying, and were blanketed by a fresh snowfall that made for “picture perfect scenery the whole way.” They then took the scenic train ride from Winnipeg to Jasper to Vancouver before heading home.

The Croys can now add polar bears, Arctic and red foxes to the host of wildlife they’ve been up close and personal with, a list which also includes lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, wildebeest, zebra and more. Next on their agenda is a trip back to Tanzania this spring to see the young animals in the wild.

The Croys are planning their trip to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for 2015, and there’s a very good chance they’ll be able to add polar bear mothers and cubs, black bears, wolves, a myriad of birds and possibly even moose and caribou to their growing list of wildlife sightings. This time they say they’d like to see the fall colours of Nova Scotia before they head up to the Lodge at Nanuk, which will have even more upgrades by the time they get there.

Polar bear leisure activities.

Polar bear leisure activities.

“We really wanted to see the mothers and cubs,” said Lynne. “But we never thought we’d get back there. When we got home my husband turned on the computer and said you’d better come and look at this. It was an email saying we won the trip to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. We were thrilled!”

“Let’s just say it got a little noisy in the house,” said Bob.

Curious black bear at Nanuck Polar Bear Lodge.

This curious black bear popped up in front of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge last fall while we were returning from a day trip and was snapped by numerous guests. If you would like more information and photos on the Mothers & Cubs trip the Croys won, click the bear :) This photo courtesy of Robert Postma.

Wolverine provides rare photo op for guests at Dymond Lake Lodge

by Terry Elliot – Lead Guide for Churchill Wild

Wolverine at Dymond Lake Lodge - Great Ice Bear Adventure 2012

Wolverine at Dymond Lake Lodge - Great Ice Bear Adventure 2012

What an amazing day at Dymond Lake! Woke up this morning to a beautiful sunrise, crisp and cold with wind sculpted snow drifts everywhere. Went for a walk across the lake and then out to the coast. We saw one bear on the lake (we call him One Ear) and another on the road (Scar Brow). Two pine martens provided some amusing entertainment chasing each other around in the snow and when we got to the coast we spotted a wolverine!

Two years in a row now we have seen him here. He’s big and absolutely beautiful. The guests were able to get good photos and video! He sauntered down the road towards the Lodge and we followed him behind one of the buildings, where we were able to get within 10 meters of him! We got some really nice photos before he saw us and ran away. A truly spectacular, once in a lifetime experience! I’ve got my batteries on charge.

Because tomorrow is another great day at Dymond Lake Lodge!

Birds, Bears & Beluga Whale Snorkeling! A Great Summer at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure is winding down now, but the summer of 2012 was certainly one of our best ever for walking with polar bears and swimming with beluga whales! A big thank you goes out to our fabulous guests!

This year the bears were aided by a late thaw, which resulted in them being fat and healthy when they ventured off the ice and into our polar bear viewing domain. Spots for the 2013 Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure are already filling up. Watch for Seal River Heritage Lodge to be featured in future IMAX, National Geographic and Discovery Channel productions. Churchill Wild is truly becoming the home of the world’s next great safari!

Many people are intrigued by the beluga whale swims. Below is a short video to give you an idea of what you’re missing. It is an incredible experience!

YouTube Preview Image

One of the aspects not readily apparent in the video above is the fact that the whales are singing.  Beluga whales are known as the “Canaries of the Sea” because of their chirping. When your head is in the water you can hear them. If you sing or hum through your snorkel, the whales respond in kind. Whether it be a Broadway show tune, your alma mater song or the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” — they all worked for guests this summer!

Below are a few photos from one of our beluga whale swims this summer. Click the image to scroll through the photos or click Show picture list to view the photo gallery.

Polar Bears in the News: The Polar Bear Club

So often news stories involving polar bears consist of experts predicting the end of our beloved polar bear. Doom & gloom is effective in an awareness campaign but never fun to hear about.

So how about some positive news from waaaay up north? Well… positive for polar bears and possibly ice caps (not to be confused with the popular Canadian “Iced Capp”).

Tim Horton’s Iced Capp – a Canadian tradition in the making.

It seems Alaska is getting a lot of the white stuff this year. According to meteorologist Shaun Baines, Sarah Palin’s home state is on track for snowiest winter on record:

About 150 miles to the southeast (of Anchorage), the Prince William Sound community of Cordova, which has already been buried under 172 inches of snow since November, could get another 7 inches today

… It has been difficult to keep up with the shovelling – and 8ft walls of snow line either side of her driveway. After snow fell off her roof she cannot see out either the front or back of her house.

… If it keeps up, Anchorage is on track to have the snowiest winter ever, surpassing the previous record of 132.8 inches in 1954-55, meteorologist Shaun Baines said.

172 inches of snow

Snowboarding anyone? All we can say is “Wow”…

Hopefully the Hudson Bay polar bears that hang out at Seal River Heritage Lodge don’t decide to relocate to Alaska. We’ll have to make sure we don’t mention this to them.

:::

Elsewhere there have been numerous news stories and YouTube videos of polar bear cubs popping up. We’ve posted a few to our Facebook page but this one was an absolute cuddly little doll! The latest comes out of the Scandinavian Wildlife Park and appeared in the Washington Post’s “Kids Post” section.

Hello Siku!

Meet Siku! Internet sensation!

This baby polar bear was born November 22 at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Kolind, Denmark. But because his mother couldn’t produce milk to feed the cub…

Keepers named the cub Siku, which means “sea ice.”

Well, I guess there is little extra “sea ice” this year after all. Always good news.

:::

The valiant Prince William came to Canada recently to show off his new bride Kate. There was a huge media blitz and Canadians were genuinely excited and gracious hosts.

Churchill Wild sent out the invitation but we did not make the itinerary. Maybe next time. We’re sure there are many Seal River alumni (see our Trip Advisor reviews) that would vouch for the suitability of our lodge.

During their whirlwind tour of our homeland the Premier of Northwest Territories gifted the royal couple some fabulous polar bear bling.

Some people are making a fuss about it. We think it was a nice gesture:

An good idea for Christmas 2012?

We wonder if the Churchill Wild logo would look good encrusted with diamonds. The polar bear brooch is worth around $30,000 dollars (19,000 British pounds). A Churchill Wild limited edition logo brooch? We may never know…

:::

Finally, no scan of the news for “polar bears” is ever complete without one of these:

The Polar Bear Club

Yes – every year around this time people strip down and brave the frigid waters for their local “polar bear club”. It is hilarious to watch from the warm comfort of your recliner in front of the television.

While we have to commend those brave souls who peel and dive into the cold water we find ourselves contemplating the addition of our own “polar bear challenge” during the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake EcoLodge.

The Polar Bear Club - Churchill Wild style.

Nahhh… wouldn’t be a big seller. That’s what Dymond Lake looks like when it starts freezing up in October/November (sans swimmer and umbrella). Floating balls of ice. Wanna jump in?

Actually, when Churchill Wild’s guests get into the water in the summer for a beluga swim the Hudson Bay waters are just as cold (or colder) than what most “polar bear clubs” would experience. Wanna try it? That’s our extremely popular Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure which takes place during July and August at the Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Beluga whale swims at Seal River

Our guests wear heavily insulated dry suits to keep them from freezing up. This photo is courtesy of Mark Seth Lender who was up last summer for our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure. Mark has a series of blog posts on his site about his time at the lodge. They are accompanied by some incredible pictures. Check them out.

Mark has a syndicated column and is a frequent contributor to Living on Earth (PRI) a nationally syndicated radio program on NPR. He’s putting the final touches on his Churchill Wild segments and they will be airing in the coming months. Stay in touch with us through our newsletter, blog, Facebook and Twitter for air dates.

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That’s all for this time. Thanks for reading.