Manitoba, Land of Polar Bears and Northern Lights

Seeing wild polar bears and witnessing the Northern Lights have always been special dreams for me. In particular, chasing the aurora has been a favourite travelling pastime, which until a recent visit to Manitoba, Canada had been an unsuccessful pursuit.

A friendly polar bear playing peek-a-boo at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, Manitoba in Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-35_polar_bear

Peek-a-boo bear

Manitoba, delivers in spades”

The problem with dreams is that they are finicky, often failing to live up to the hype. We produce bucket lists, building up destinations and activities in our minds, for days, weeks and even months. The anticipation climbs to a level of excitement which is almost feverish. This intensity of anticipation may result in an anti-climax, the experience often not living up to the dream.

Fortunately Manitoba, delivers in spades, every single moment of the trip was memorable, and when the time to leave finally arrived, it was an even more bittersweet feeling than usual.

Our guide at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, on the edge of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-38_polar_bear

The bear whisperer in action

The experience at the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, based on the shores of Hudson Bay in Manitoba is unique. The ChurchillWild guides walk their guests close to the bears, not merely viewing them from a tundra buggy. The difference is easy to see, the images produced are at ground level, eye to eye with the world’s largest land predator and not looking down on them from a high vantage point.

The landscape appears desolate, a barren wilderness, with miles of swamp-like tidal grasslands, low bushland growing to the edge of an ancient high tideline, kept in check by the constant wind. Small inlets punctuate the coastline, fed by thin ribbon-like brackish streams snaking their way across thick, mud beaches; it’s hauntingly beautiful.

Our guide at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, on the edge of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-47_polar_bear

Manitoba stand-off

I’m especially fond of the deserted, desiccated tree trunks, which are found everywhere. Their twisted shapes seem to emphasise the barren nature of the environment. Even towards the end of summer there is plenty of colour. The hues of autumn are just beginning to appear, and the golden glow of a low evening sun brings some warmth to the scenery.

Our guides chauffeured around is in a specifically built all terrain vehicle, and Albert, our Swampy Cree guide regularly hopped off his quad bike to check tracks, always vigilant for tracks, and signs of bears, wolves or moose.

Dead tree trunk in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-72_hudson_bay

Desolate beauty

Polar bear on the coast of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-66_polar_bear

What all the best dressed bears are sporting this year

Once within a few hundred metres of the bears however, we would dismount and make our way single file to within range of a short lens. The experienced guides usually keeping around 50 metres between us and the animals. These are wild creatures however, and haven’t read that script, on one occasion a mother bear, with cub decided she needed a better look at us.

Our ‘bear whisperer’ remained calm”

Our guide Andy, took up a position between us and the curious bear and calmly ‘persuaded’ her to keep her distance. She remained persistent however, less than 30 metres away. He needed to resort to throwing a few branches in her direction as a further deterrent. Our ‘bear whisperer’ remained calm throughout, and this allowed us to relax and enjoy the encounter, continuing to take photos. I didn’t feel at all threatened, or uneasy, confident he would deal with any potential situation.

Mother polar bear and cub in Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-61_polarbear_cub

Proud mama bear and her scruffy cub

The bears also regularly came to visit the compound, often ‘ghosting’ in from the undergrowth to dawdle around the fence and check-out the strange beings enclosed within. It’s a curious role reversal, the bears roaming free, the people confined by a wire fence. One bear in particular seemed to enjoy visiting the people’s zoo; he often visited, and seemed genuinely curious about us.

Photographers and a polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-76_polar_bear

Who’s watching who?

Polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge on Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-75_polar_bear

On the outside looking in

an aurora virgin like me”

It’s not just about the bears however, we another treat was a brief display of dancing lights on our first evening. The sky wasn’t completely clear, there were plenty of clouds, which diffused the full effect of the night lights. It was still  spectacular however, especially for an aurora virgin like me. A mesmerising display of dancing light, filling the sky with an eerie green glow, which left me transfixed for over an hour. Fortunately I did manage to get a few images as well.

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis on Hudson Bay, Manitoba in Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-45_northern_lights

The awesome aurora

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis on Hudson Bay, Manitoba in Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-39_northern_lights

Nature’s fireworks

I enjoyed every experience, riding the all terrain vehicles, fording the tidal brooks, disturbing huge flocks of geese causing them to take flight, taking to the sky, often in their hundreds, but like a single entity. The encounters with bears are unforgettable, and witnessing the greatest free show on earth, nature’s pyrotechnics in the sky is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience, which will be repeatable.

This post may seem gushing hyperbole but, it’s a dream realised. The memories of this wilderness will long outshine any words on this page.

Polar bear at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge on Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-74_polar_bear

A bear named Nanuk

I was a grateful guest of ChurchillWild and Manitoba Tourism, but all opinions were formed with a huge grin on my face.

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19 Responses to “Manitoba, Land of Polar Bears and Northern Lights”

  1. Bruce Faanes September 26, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Really enjoyed you’re article and excellent photos. Looks like a very special place, to say the least. I will be @ Seal River Camp 11/6-12th this year for the Polar Bear Photo Safari. I’m sure I’ll revisit your images many more times before I get to camp. Thanks for sharing your experience with the world!

    • Iain September 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      Wow lucky you Bruce, I’m pretty jealous, that should be an amazing trip! Thank you for the kind words, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of great images of your own to share soon.

  2. Jennifer September 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    What an amazing experience to get so close to the bears. I’m surprised that they seem so calm. Do you think they’re just used to people from all the tourists that visit?

    We’ve been to Svalbard but didn’t see any polar bears. I would like to see them in the wild. We’re also doing a project to help educate people about how they can conserve the six species of endangered and threatened bears and their environment.

    • Iain September 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      It was a lifetime dream come true Jennifer, one of the most amazing experiences ever. I think we were all surprised how calm the mother bear seemed, though most seemed more curious than anything. I’m not sure that they are habitualised to people, the guides believe in minimal disturbance and try not to pester them too much.

      It’s a shame you weren’t able to see wild bears in Svalbard, it’s a destination I’m really keen to visit. I’d also love to find out more about the project to educate people about the plight of endangered bears.

  3. Heather September 21, 2013 at 1:42 am #

    What an incredible experience this must have been! I love that the bears visit the human zoo :-)

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

      It was indeed Heather, and also loved that the bears were able to amble up, visit the human zoo and take a look at us whenever they felt like it.

  4. Cathy Sweeney September 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    WOW, a bear whisperer! I would definitely want to have Andy as my guide in bear country. What a fantastic experience to see those beautiful animals up close and the Northern Lights – perfect combination.

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

      I can thoroughly recommend Andy, he really is a bear whisperer, remaining calm whatever the situation. It is a special trip Cathy, and I feel blessed to have been able to given the opportunity to experience it.

  5. Beth September 20, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    I’m really glad you finally got to see the Northern Lights! All of the pictures look incredible.
    And to be that close to a polar bear, wow! I need to look more into this trip :)

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

      I often found myself catching my breath during this trip, a unique experience and there always seemed to be an incredible encounter with a bear or stunning landscape to enjoy.

  6. NowMadNow September 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    It is great to read your impressions about this amazing trip. I must say, I still think constantly about this incredible place and the unique opportunity that we were given. So far, I can’t write my article, I just spent too much time trying to spot polar bears in Montreal!

    It was great to share this awe-inspiring experience with you guys.

    All the best Iain!

    Lili

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

      It was great meeting you Lili and I look forward to reading your take on the trip when you have sometime. Enjoy the rest of your trip through Canada and I hope we get to meet again one day.

      Take care and safe travels

  7. Kenin Bassart September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    This trip is very high on our list. Love the photography, I’m green with envy!

  8. Deirdre September 19, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    I love this post! I was born in Saskatchewan but have never visited there – this makes me want to return to the prairies of Canada! The photos were just spectacular and I too, have always dreamed of seeing the Aurora. Spectacular!

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      I loved the experience just as much and sharing it seemed really important. I hope you see the dancing lights one day, they are mindblowing. Even when the show isn’t as spectacular as some, it’s still takes the breath away.

  9. Raymond @ Man On The Lam September 19, 2013 at 2:57 am #

    I’ve seen the Northern Lights once in Labrador, but would LOVE to see them in Manitoba. And of course, get that close to polar bears. :)

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      It was a fantastic experience Raymond, hope you get to enjoy both the bears and the lights soon

  10. Nara September 19, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    Perfect post!!!!

    • Iain September 21, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Thank you Nara, glad you liked it.

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Manitoba, Land of Polar Bears and Northern Lights