What a place this is !!!!
05.08.2007 - 15.08.2007 14 °C
OK... we were on the train... heading for Churchill.... It's long trip... How long we were about to find out !
The next afternoon, having spent 15 hours on the train already, we arrived at “The Pas”, pronounced “Pah”…. 2 hours late. We’d seen the scenery change from rolling hills and fields to trees…. Lots of trees…. And more trees. The night had come and gone and we were still in the trees (although they were getting smaller)
We left and headed up to Churchill…. We trundled along the tracks at 15kph…. The tracks hadn’t been maintained for years and it was here we heard about the politics of Canadian Rail.
We’d been hearing historical aspects of the Trans Canadian Railway for a while now…. However… we were no longer on the Trans Canadian and the rail link to Churchill (which was the only way, together with flying there, to get there…. There’s no roads out here!) had been left for years to deteriorate as a result.
The Rail Lines are owned by CN Rail…. This company was bought over by an American Company some years earlier and these guys make their money on Freight transport. Passenger services are run by Via Rail (which is Canadian Owned) However, the line up to Churchill wasn’t a very profitable one in terms of Freight… so naturally…. The law of economics had taken over and so less and less money was being invested into maintaining the line.
The train tracks undulated and buckled as we crept along them towards Churchill. We saw the remnants of some Freight carriages strewn along the side of the track which had derailed a couple of weeks earlier, hence the speed limits on the track had been lowered… and we hoped… was being adhered to.
Night fell and the trees crept passed us, getting ever smaller as we headed into the Tundra.
By morning the trees had all but gone and we were now officially on the Canadian Acrtic Tundra.
There was still the odd tree…stunted and brittle… but more often small bushes and lakes surrounded the train as we continued on our slow slog North.
Finally…. And I mean Finally…. We saw the small town of Churchill and pulled into the station….. 10 and a half hours late!
We’d booked into a small B&B called Vera Goulds, so we walked the 10 minute walk up to the house. Vera was an old lady of 80+ who owned and ran the hostel with the help of some home help. She was a nice older lady who’d obviously seen a lot in her life and as a result could come over as being a short at times… however… the beds were immaculate and the house clean.
We popped to a small café called Gypsies (which was to be our regular haunt over the coming 5 days) and then went to bed. The night was cloudy so we decided not to stay up to try and see the Northern Lights that evening…. Bed was calling!
Churchill is right on the edge of the Hudson Sea, and the Hudson River runs alongside the town. Historically the place was strategic as a gateway to the Northern Islands and their Seals and Whales etc. However, these days… the place is world famous for it’s Polar Bears (although we weren’t there in Polar Bear Season) and it’s Beluga Whales (for which it was currently peak season…. Yeahhh !)
We booked on a Whale Watching tour with one of two operators in town (Sea North Tours) and after a bried tour of the Old Fort Williams Fort… we headed out into the Hudson to see the Belugas.
Neither of us had seen Belugas and suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of whales… whistling and calling all around us. They approached the boats and the guys put a hydraphone into the water so we could hear them more clearly… however…. To be honest you could hear them just as well from outside the water.
It was fantastic as we watched the whales swim back and forth around the boat in pods of up to 30 or so.
We arrived home enthralled after our whale experience and after tea (At gypsies of course) headed to bed early ready to get up to see the Northern lights early in the morning…..
The alarm went off at 2am……..
We got up……..
No Northern Lights…..
Went back to bed!
After a lovely Vera’s Breakfast we spent the day exploring the Town of Churchill. We visited the Eskimo Museum (they prefer to be called Inuits, not Eskimos, and yet the museum which was run by Inuit people was still called the “Eskimo Museum”…. Strange!)
Anyway, we also visited the few shops in town… mostly full of expensive stone and Ivory carvings, saw many a stuffed Polar Bear around the Hotels etc. and then we booked onto the Tundra Buggy Half Day Tour to go and see if we could find any Polar Bears (Unlikely though that was)
It was Expensive… however… we decided to go anyway and together with about 7 others we boarded the small Transit van to take us out to where the Tundra Buggies left from.
The Buggies themselves were something to behold. They were Massive Monster Trucks with huge wheels and they had about 2 metres ground clearance.
So we set off…. It was a bumpy ride and luckily the Monster Truck seemed to handle nearly every kind of terrain I could think of. Sand…Rocks (Massive Boulders), mud etc. etc. the Tundra Buggy just rolled on through (or rather over) it all!
After and hour we began to get disillusioned and even our guide was beginning to run out of things to show us on the trip… and then finally… he put his foot down and headed over some boulders towards a peninsula with some rocks on it….. rocks… is that all !!!
Then one of the rocks Moved !
It was a Polar Bear ! Whayhaeeee.
It had snuggled itself amongst the Larger Rocks where it was happily Sun Bathing.
We sat there for about half an hour watching it from a distance… hoping it would get adventurous and approach us for a better picture or two….. it didn’t. Obviously it was far too comfortable where it was so it stayed there!
Our Guide Gave us all a chance to drive on teh way back too... which was fun!
We were exstatic…. Our first Bear in Canada… and a Polar Bear at that !
We headed home… had our tea andGypsies (again!) and sent to bed ready to get up to see the Northern Lights.
The alarm went off at 2am……..
We got up……..
No Northern Lights…..
Went back to bed!
Today we hired a Van (which was recommended to us as the best ways of seeing Churchill)… so after some initial planning in terms of our route around Churchill (along the somewhat limited road network) we set off in our Hire Van (Come Monster Truck)
Vera had lent us a Claxon (Personal Fog Horn) incase we ran into any polar bears whilst out on the tundra so with our weaponry loaded… we headed off.
We stopped at Polar Bear Jail which was literally a Jail for Polar Bears. They operate the three strikes and your out rule up here… so if a polar bear was seen roaming around the town centre… they’d scare it away three times…. Then it was off to the jail until the winter came for it if it kept on returning!
We saw the traps they set around the Town during the peak season as there are some 2000 polar bears roaming the tundra around Churchill in about October November time.
The Ice freezes first at this point of the Hudson Bay so the polar bears congregate here ready to get back on the ice so they can get back to doing what they do best…. Hunting and eating Seals!
After the Jail we headed off to Miss Piggy which was an airplane that had crashed some years earlier…. With miraculously enough…. No fatalities!
We Popped along a sandy track (Where we got stuck for a wee while!) to go and see the wreck of the Ithica…. It’s rusted up and breaking up now… however… together with getting stuck in the sand and having to use buried rocks under each wheel to get out… it was fun Steph wasn’t too happy when we managed to get the Van out and I drove off though….. think the line was :
“There’s Feckin Polar Bears out here you tw*t”
or something like that
We visited the Rocket Base (Now Abandoned where NASA used to test rockets) and then in the distance I spotted something White.
We drove closer and managed to see that it was a Polar Bear….
Excited we drove up to where it was at the side of a track and stupidly, in our excitement, I approached too quickly and the bear spotted us. It had a dead Canadian Goose in it’s Jaws and it hurtled off into the Bushes.
Now seeing something that size (remember a polar bear is over 3 meters tall when it stands on it’s back legs… and is the only known mammal which will actively Hunt down Humans!) hurtle along into the bushes made us kind of happy to be in a monster truck (even though it was most probably the size of the damn thing that scared off the bear in the first place…. That’s’ my excuse anyway
Either way we hung around to see if it would pop back out of the bushes, which it didn’t so we headed off back to Churchill, Polar Bear Number 2 having been snapped (even if somewhat blurred)
The Next Day was to be our final Day in Churchill and as such we’d arranged to go Snorkeling with the Belugas!
Yep… finally after searching for somewhere where we could swim with Whales…. Churchill…. The most unlikeliest of places was able to offer us both the opportunity to snorkel with these magnificent creatures.
The only problem was…. It was cold…. And we were due to leave that day…. So we booked the early dive time….
That morning we were awoken by the sound of Loud Bangs, like big crackers, going off all around. We thought nothing of it and went to our early Snorkel. Apparently... a Bear was in town when one of the guys was walking to Work in Gypsies.... Imagine stumbling over a Polar Bear at 5:30am in the Morning.... One way to wake you up anyway
IT was 7am when we arrived at the Port and it was cold !
We put on 7mm thick Wet Suits, Gloves, Hats, Shoes… every part of our body (apart from our faces was covered in Rubber!)
We jumped into the Zodiac (with 2 others, only one of which was snorkeling) and moved out into the River.
We had ropes on either side of the Zodiac, so we lowered ourselves into the Frigid Hudson and (having got over the initial shock of loosing my Manhood and my tonsils) waited for the whales.
You hear them before you see them and the Clacks and Whistles rang out in the water. It was pretty Murky with the visibility down to about three meters, however, suddenly a White Ghost Shape would flit past underneath. The Noises would Intensify and then finally about three or four Whales would swim underneath you.
Now we’ve swam with Dolphins before and they weren’t really interested in you… more you were dropped in their way as they swam.
Belugas are very, very different.
They would swim underneath you and Look up at you. Then they’d circle round and turn so their bellies were towards you. This was so they could get a good look at you. And this happened loads of times!
I found myself smiling constantly as they rolled in underneath you (only a meter or so away and in some cases close enough to touch) with their flippers in the air facing you… like they were waving at you or saying hello… It was great and I also found myself Waving back at them like a little boy….
It was Fantastic and we both really loved the whole experience.
An Hour later and minus what felt like some toes and fingers and maybe our faces… we pulled ourselves out of the water and headed to shore.
A Definite Highlight of our trip so far and I would say one of the best experiences so far in my life!
We got back in a good mood and prepared to leave to head back on the train to Winnipeg….
It was delayed… no surprises there….. However… this time up it had been delayed by the rail lines being washed away in a flood in Thompson (some 200 Miles down track from Churchill)
It was going to be delayed quite a bit…..
Well…. Lets Put it like this…… we went back to Veras and booked ourselves in for another night. The train would finally leave Tomorrow Morning…
On Time….. just a day late !
However… we didn’t care…. It’s well worth any delay to see and experience Churchill and we both really loved the place, the people and most importantly the Wildlife.