Polar Bear Blog

Napa Food Gal Travels to Polar Bear Country and loves it

“She was telling everyone she met about Churchill Wild. She loved her trip with you guys!” ~ Tamara Soroka, Travel Manitoba

Dynie Sanderson photographing a polar bear from the deck at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.
Dynie Sanderson photographing a polar bear from the deck at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

by George Williams

NapaFoodGalTravels.com owner Dynie Sanderson was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge last fall for the Hudson Bay Odyssey and according to Travel Manitoba Media Content Specialist Tamara Soroka, the charismatic baby boomer was expounding our virtues to everyone she met at a TBEX conference that followed.

I guess we should have expected as much from someone who was nicknamed “Dynamite” before she was even a year old.

“I had an amazing, amazing experience with Churchill Wild,” said Sanderson. “It was over the top. Honestly, the team of people they have in place is completely top notch. From Bella (Lodge Manager Bella Waterton) and her team at the lodge, to the guides on the wilderness excursions, I was absolutely impressed.

“They make you feel at home, comfortable, they welcome you, they create a connection and a synergy between guests, and between guests and staff. And they meld into the group, which I love. They come in and they sit down with you at dinner and show you their wildlife and history in slideshows and photos, which were really entertaining and informative. I just loved the way the staff engaged with everybody.”

Dynie Sanderson (5th from right or left) with guides and fellow guests at Nanuk.
Dynie Sanderson (5th from right) with guides and fellow guests at Nanuk.

An accomplished food, wine and travel writer, Sanderson has spent most of the past 25 years in Napa Valley, California raising five daughters with her husband Dana, helping run their family boutique winery, Tadpole Vineyards, and crafting stories.

Sanderson started her writing career over 20 years ago by creating GuestWest Magazine, which became the premier Wine Country publication. GuestWest Magazine highlighted the local wine country but also took readers to places beyond Napa Valley with features on cuisine, wine, fashion and destination travel. Sanderson later went on to work as a consultant and contributor to Napa’s signature lifestyle publication, Napa Valley Life Magazine as the food and flavor editor. After her daughters were grown, she started to add more international travel to her schedule.

“I go on trips so that I can write about them for my own site and also for different print publications,” said Sanderson. “I want to be able to tell people about my experiences not only in the online environment but also in print. If someone is sitting on a plane and they’re reading the article, I want them to say ‘Wow, this looks like something I really need to do.’”

Before traveling to Nanuk last fall, Sanderson’s travels had taken her to Spain, Portugal and London for wine tasting and foodie adventures among the locals, but none of her previous destinations resembled anything close to the wild Hudson Bay coast.

“I found out about Churchill Wild from Jillian Recksiedler (Senior Content Specialist, Travel Manitoba) while at the SATW Conference in Barbados,” said Sanderson. “She said I needed to go on this trip for a number of reasons. The food, the lodge, the history, the polar bears, and because co-owner Jeanne Reimer’s mother (Helen Webber) had written a cookbook series (Blueberries & Polar Bears) that had been used at their lodges for years. It was all intriguing to me. I like soft adventure and I appeal to the baby boomers who might take a trip like this, so it was a perfect fit.”

Was Sanderson ever worried about getting out of her comfort zone and onto the ground with polar bears in Canada’s subarctic?

“Oh not at all,” she said. “We spend part of the year in Montana and we have love for the outdoors. My husband and I love to camp and hike, and we’re skiers and scuba divers. I’m not going to go hike Mount Kilimanjaro, but I’m certainly going to get out there and explore.

“We got close to the polar bears at Nanuk, but not dangerously close. They were close enough to where you could get some really good photos, but not so close that you felt it was dangerous. You never felt in harm’s way because the guides are so well versed, so phenomenal, and educated. They’re masters of the wilderness.

Polar bear walks along a beach ridge at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jenn Smith Nelson photo.
Polar bear walks along a beach ridge at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jenn Smith Nelson photo.

“The closest we got to the polar bears was at the lodge and we were able to take photos with our phones. We also saw polar bears while out on our daily treks and I got one close up video, but generally we would see them further away, up on the beach ridges.

“Nanuk wasn’t overly physical either. There were two women in our group in their 70s and they were troopers. They were out there getting it done. It’s not that strenuous. You might be walking through wet and mud but it’s not like you’re doing any kind of elevation.”

While the size of a group at Nanuk at any one time is usually 16, Sanderson’s group consisted of only seven people.

“It was a very intimate group,” said Sanderson. “We felt like we had our own kind of personal excursion, which was great. There were a couple of people in the group traveling solo like myself, and we didn’t know anybody when we got there, but the synergy was perfect. What I really loved was that everybody got along so beautifully.

“Our guides, Andy and Kevin and Emri would take us up into the viewing tower to look for polar bears, and they were so smart at spotting them, following their trails, knowing what they were eating and where they were sleeping. They were amazing.”

Dynie Sanderson (center, in purple) with new friends at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.
Dynie Sanderson (center, in purple) with new friends at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Sanderson also commented on the remote nature of Nanuk, and like many previous guests, she sometimes felt as if she were in another world.

“I felt like I was exploring Mars,” said Sanderson. “Like I was doing a trek on an unknown planet somewhere, that had been untouched. I’d look around and I’m out in the middle of this vast beautiful nothingness. Really, it was just insane to think that we may have been the only people on earth to have ever walked in some of the places we went.

“It really was an educational experience. Something for people who are really into wildlife and adventure and who want to understand polar bears better, how they live, free. It’s not like they’re in a zoo or a cage. They’re living freely in their own habitat. This was about learning how the polar bears live in their own environment and seeing the beauty of them. And they were just as curious about us as we were about them. It was almost as if they were friendly. Like they wanted you to say hi.”

On the first night of her trip, Guide Manager Andy MacPherson woke Sanderson’s group up to see the northern lights, but it was tough to get out of bed after that, for good reason.

“The rooms were immaculate and the beds were so comfortable,” said Sanderson. “Oh my gosh, what a great experience that was seeing the northern lights. But crawling back into cozy beds with down comforters, I didn’t want to get out of bed the next morning. But I knew we had a full day of adventure in front of us.”

"Crawling back into cozy beds with down comforters, I didn’t want to get out of bed the next morning." ~ Dynie Sanderson
“Crawling back into cozy beds with down comforters, I didn’t want to get out of bed the next morning.” ~ Dynie Sanderson

And finally there was the food, which  was the reason for Sanderson’s trip in the first place. The cuisine of the tundra. Helen’s inspiration.

“You wonder about the food, because you’re out there in the middle of nowhere and everything is coming in by plane,” said Sanderson. “But we were having fresh vegetables and salads. And kudos to the lodge for being so innovative. When you come in from a day of exploring, and you’re cold, you just want to sit by a fire, have a glass of wine and enjoy some cozy delicious food, and that’s what they provided, from breakfast to lunch to dinner, and all the snacks in between.

“Two of the dishes we had were from the Blueberries & Polar Bears cookbooks, Wild Arctic Cranberry Cake with Warm Butter Sauce and Sour Cream Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce, and I posted the recipes on my website.”

Sanderson was fascinated by the history of the cookbooks and the lodges. We later sent her a copy of Churchill Wild 25 Years of Adventure on the Hudson Bay Coast, as well as the first cookbook in the Blueberries & Polar Bears series.

Wild Arctic Cranberry Cake with Warm Butter Sauce. Ian McCausland photo.
Wild Arctic Cranberry Cake with Warm Butter Sauce. Ian McCausland photo.

“It’s about more than just about the polar bears,” said Sanderson. “It’s the family history, their give first approach, the building of the lodges, how Helen and Marie wrote the cookbooks and started selling them out of the trunk of their car, how the smell of cinnamon buns attracted people to their trade show booth, the warmth and coziness of the business, the inspiration, how it all happened. I love incorporating history into my stories.”

Hopefully, our newfound friend and admittedly wild child will still be thinking and talking about us next year when she’s off on her worldly adventures in Dubai, Sicily and Puerto Rico. We think she will.

“I had an absolutely fantastic time,” said Sanderson. “People who are 50-plus, who are looking for soft adventure, ecotours, preservation of the wilderness tours, this is for them.

“This is something special.”


 Connect with Dynie and Napa Food Gal Travels here:

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Website: https://www.napafoodgaltravels.com/


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