18 May Manitoba and Nunavut
Get to know the arctic regions of Canada at Manitoba and Nunavut - and meet polar bears, belugas and narwhals.
The Canadian province of Nunavut is very large, very remote and very expensive. Right at the border of the ice you can watch belugas and bowhead whales. In Manitoba you can meet hundreds of belugas.
The Canadian Arctic is one of the most remote (and therefore most expensive) places for whale watching altogether, especially the giant Nunavut with its hardly accessible waterways of the North-West-Passage. On the other hand, you get the chance of seeing very exotic whales between May and September: Narwhals, bowhead whales and belugas.
Narwhals, the unicorns of the seas, stay close to the pack ice all their lives, just like bowhead whales. In spring they travel through the fresh cracks in the ice in huge numbers to get into the waters of the Admirality Inlet, Lancaster Sound, Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet, where they spend spring, summer and autumn.
Best chances of meeting them are on Baffin Island and in the area around Pond Inlet, where you can do multi day narwhal- and polar bear-safaris in May and June. The problem is that travels to Nunavut are nothing short of an expedition and also cost just as much: At least 5.000€ per person, flight not included.
»There are probably around 25.000 belugas in Hudson Bay. Some of them migrate south to Churchill every summer.«
Especially Churchill in Manitoba is a very reliably place for seeing belugas in summer. There are probably around 25.000 belugas in Hudson Bay. Approximately 3.000 of them migrate southwards to Churchill every summer from the middle of June to the middle of August.
Some of the tour operators offer whale watching tours by kayak. The Churchill Science Center also offers multi day Learning Vacations about Belugas from June to early August.
Travels to the arctic parts of Canada are pretty expensive and quickly develop the character of an expedition. They do, however, get you right into the Arctic and you can meet polar bears and walruses.
Nunavut is a giant place (the size of Western Europe), the most thinly populated part of Canada and not really a touristic hotspot. The most accessible places are Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Resolute – little towns with the character of basecamps. As there are no streets, you can only get there by ship or plane. Hotels are expensive (about 250 Dollars per person per night) and rather resemble a research station in the Arctic. Flights from the bigger Canadian airports are around 1.000 Dollars. The upside: They bring you right into the Arctic and you get to do expedition-like tours. For example, Arctic Kindgdom offers 8-day narwhal- and polar bear-safaris in May/June right at the border to the pack ice from Pond Inlet. Downside: up to 10.000 Dollars per person.
The area around Hudson Bay is a lot more prepared for tourists, especially Churchill, known as global polar bear capital. Approximately 1.000 polar bears live here, spending the summer without feeding and with as little effort as possible at the edge of the Hudson Bay. As soon as the bay freezes over and the way north is clear, they leave to go hunting for seals. During summer, you can meet polar bears everywhere in and around Churchill. From the middle of October to the middle of November, you can do polar bear-safaris with giant Tundra Buggies (a Churchill exclusive!) on the frozen Hudson Bay. Sightings are almost guaranteed.
Apart from belugas, narwhals and polar bears, there are also many kinds of seals and walruses in the Canadian Arctic. Walruses live only in the northernmost polar regions and are extremely endangered, as they were a prime target for hunters during the times of whaling, because of their tusks and their thick layer of fat. The populations in the Pacific have recovered quite well, the ones in the Atlantic not so much. Walruses prefer staying in the shallow coastal regions and drift ice of the arctic. In summer, they are best spotted around Baffin Bay.
The Canadian Arctic lies far north of the polar circle. The sun is up until the beginning of August but nowhere to be seen in winter. Instead, the magic northern lights dance across the sky in clear nights.