Flying to Churchill is always fascinating, especially if we can see the ground, because you travel over a vast tract of the largest intact forest ecosystem in the world – the heart of the Canadian boreal forest. But regardless of how interesting it is, or how much you like travelling by plane, it is generally unanimously agreed that taking a break for lunch is a good thing to do on arrival in Churchill itself. But first you have to actually get to town….
On arrival today we were just scrambling into the bus at the doors to the airport terminal when we saw the first polar bear of the trip! That’s a first! I always tell groups that we should look out right from the moment the plane touches down, as there’s always a chance of bears straight away, but it has never happened for me before. All feeling somewhat amazed, we watched the polar bear as he ambled along the edge of one of the nearby tundra ponds, oblivious to our excitement and the regular click of camera shutters.
As the polar bear got a little further away we began our journey into town, the bus full of excited chatter at our great welcome to Churchill. But we weren’t going to get to lunch without another awesome delay! Instead, we spotted a helicopter flying low, very low, on the very edge of town. We pulled over to check out what he was doing. As we came to a halt a large bear erupted out of the willows and lumbered intently across the open ground straight towards us, the helicopter urging him onward. We had to move along a little to ensure that the bear wasn’t going to come running in through the bus door, and instead let him pass by just behind us, close enough that we could see the last vestiges of fat on his bones rippling.
As he crossed the road the buzzing helicopter peeled off to the left, and a new roaring engine took our attention. From the main street of town came a conservation officer wrapped in thick winter gear, standing up as he urged his quad over snowdrifts, a large shotgun (loaded with cracker shells first) strapped to his back. Drawing level with the polar bear, he chivied it onward towards the river.
Needless to say there was a high level of excitement onboard the bus as we finally arrived at our lunch destination, just 100m further down the street!