17 Oct Polar Bears from Above: Helicopter Tour of Churchill, Manitoba
Peering over the edge of the window, I looked down at white sand and aqua waters. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were flying through the Caribbean. In reality, that couldn’t have been much further from the truth. Where were we? We were flying over the Canadian tundra…in Churchill, Manitoba. Our one-hour helicopter tour of Churchill was full of one surprise after another, and we absolutely loved every minute of it.
The tour started out at our hotel, Polar Inn and Suites. Alex, our helicopter pilot from Custom Helicopters, picked us up in a shuttle and drove us to the departure point at the Churchill airport. Custom Helicopters has offered helicopter charters for quite some time, and they recently added tourism and sightseeing flights into the repertoire.
We watched with anticipation as Alex prepped the helicopter for our flight. He loaded a shotgun and other bear safety gear in the rear compartment and casually explained how to open the compartment should anything go wrong. Polar bear safety is definitely taken seriously round these parts.
Once everything was prepared, it was time to board after a brief safety demonstration. Since this was Micah’s first time in a helicopter (my second), we figured he needed to sit in the front seat. We buckled ourselves in, put on our headsets, and it was time to go!
With floor to ceiling glass, the front seat was almost entirely made of windows. One of the windows in the door could even be opened, which was perfect for taking photos without glare. It wasn’t until I was looking through Micah’s photos that I realized he even had glass underneath his feet! So cool.
Surprisingly, I had great views from the back seat, as well. The window to my left was a giant dome that extended way out past the edge of the helicopter body. It wasn’t until halfway through the ride that I realized just how far the window extended out. I was leaning out the window and kept going farther and farther. I felt as though I was going to fall straight over the edge…that is until my forehead finally bumped into the glass and I remained safely inside the helicopter. In other words: the domed window provided AMAZING views, too.
We had an hour flight scheduled and our flight path sent us all over the Churchill region. We flew over the MV Ithaca ship that ran aground in 1960, along the coast of the Hudson Bay, over Cape Churchill, above Wapusk National Park, and then back over the town of Churchill and the Churchill River. It was so interesting to see how diverse the landscape could be from one part of the area to the next. It surprised us to find beaches, trees, and lakes mixed in with the barren landscapes of the tundra that we had always imagined.
To top it off, we also had a heyday with our wildlife spotting! We observed numerous birds, 3 caribou, more belugas than we could count…and 9(!) polar bears. This helicopter ride happened to fall on the last full day of our trip to Churchill. Up until this point, we had yet to see a polar bear in person. Seeing so many bears in such a short amount of time, in a helicopter no less, was better than we ever imagined. And, as luck would have it, we also spotted two more polar bears on our Tundra Buggy tour that afternoon!
Throughout our trip, people told us that the polar bears don’t like the sound of the helicopters, so they tend to run away when you fly by; however, we did not find this to be the case. Alex told us that pilots are required to stay a certain distance above and away from the polar bears and other wildlife so as to not disturb them. I can’t remember the exact distance that we needed to keep, but Alex was very conscious about not getting too close to the bears.
He asked us to keep an eye out for any signs that we were being a nuisance. But, none of the polar bears we spotted even seemed to notice we were there. They just moseyed around, lounged in the water, and relaxed on the beaches. Even still, Alex didn’t want to stay near any specific bear for too long, so we stayed to take a few photos and observe a bit before heading on our way again.
We had so much fun on our helicopter tour of Churchill, Manitoba, and Alex was a wonderful pilot and guide. Our flight went by way too fast—we could have stayed up in the sky all day long. We would have to say it was an extremely successful 1st (and 2nd) ride in a helicopter. It’s definitely going to be a hard one to top!
Would you go on a helicopter tour of Churchill?
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