When we arrived at the Lazy Bear Expedition dock, a dozen colorful kayaks lined the water’s edge. I had done this leisurely activity on my travels a couple times before – once while exploring the cenotes in Mexico and another in the Micronesian country of Palau, but this time there was going to be an added element of adventure – just how I like it.
This time I would be kayaking surrounded by dozens of beluga whales.
Churchill, Manitoba in Canada
Between mid-June to September one of Canada’s most incredible wildlife display happens – the beluga whales come to town. More than 50,000 of these sociable creatures patrol the Arctic in Northern Manitoba, and the Hudson Bay coastline sees the world’s largest population. Lazy Bear Expeditions was taking me through theses waters on an adventure of a lifetime…
Kayaking amongst these gentle giants.
The adventure began in the small city of Churchill, where it was technically summer. Though this is a place where the weather can change drastically during any season, not only by the day, but even by the hour. Our guide even joked that she was going to create t-shirts that say “Churchill – there’s been a change of plans” due to how often excursions have to work around mother nature. That just adds to the excitement of the experience.
We were lucky on this day because the sun was shining and the weather was in the low 60s. The water was a different story. Even though its temperature may have been a few degrees warmer in the summer months versus winter, it was still cold (about 40 degrees). This was the Arctic after all. So, we all suited up in a wet suit, before getting into our kayaks. It was merely a preventative measure in case we accidentally tipped over.
Please don’t let me tip over.
Kayaking with Beluga Whales
I have been kayaking many times before so I was feeling confident I could safely travel through the cold water. This hasn’t always been the case though – the first time I went kayaking I was so nervous that I was looking on sites like campingfunzone.com, looking for any advice I could because I didn’t want to fall into the water! Luckily, some of the people in my group basically lived on the water so I was in safe hands if anything went wrong anyway. So, a small group of us took to the water, heading through the Churchill River at the mouth of the Hudson Bay. This beautiful river offers kayak hire on site if you don’t own one. However, if you have your own equipment and kayak trailer, you could travel down to see the whales yourself! What an amazing experience. At first, we glided on the smooth and pristine water with not a whale in site.
Where were they hiding?
Our guide told us that the belugas are attracted by singing. I’m not sure if she was pulling our leg, but we all began to quietly belt out our chosen tunes, which was a rather pathetic version of “Amazing Grace” for me. It’s hard to say if this was the reason, but as we headed further away from the dock we saw white humps in the distance. These little curves in the water could have easily been mistaken for the white cap of a wave.
We headed straight for them.
It wasn’t long before we were completely surrounded by one pod of five, then two and so on.You could see large air bubbles under the water making a ring that floated to the top, a good indication that one was near. Shortly after, the indescribable face of a beluga whale popped out of the water, made a curve with its back and disappeared underneath again. Sometimes a second one, a tiny gray baby next to its side, followed suit mimicking it’s elder.
The whales weren’t only watched from a distance, they came about as close as they could get to my kayak. Some air bubbles formed within feet from me, large belugas glided underneath my vessel and even a couple curious babies swam up to my GoPro in the water to get a better look.
It was completely surreal.
It turned out to be a great addition to my list of the top things to do before you die.
When we had found a prime spot, I simply sat still in my kayak for a couple hours waiting for them to come to me.
The belugas didn’t fail me.
For the even braver, there was another option for getting even closer with the belugas, a snorkeling excursion where Lazy Bear Expeditions plops you in the water in the middle of a whale pod.
It was purely a bonus that you get to do it in a very attractive dry suit, that needed a little vaseline to get on.
Snorkeling was similar to kayaking, except there wasn’t the safety of a boat between you and the whales. A long rope was thrown off the back of the Zodiac and we held on tight as it navigated its way to the best viewing areas. Looking the snorkel mask they would gracefully swim within feet of your face.
It didn’t matter which adventure you chose, both were equally as bucket list worthy.
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Check it Off Your Bucket List:
Churchill is located in the Northeastern portion of the Manitoba province of Canada. Manitoba is in central Canada between Ontario and Saskatchewan.
A majority of the visitors will fly into the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport and from there take a domestic flight to Churchill. If you have booked with Lazy Bear Exhibitions they will have a charter flight waiting for you in Churchill.
When to Go:
The beluga whales are best seen from mid-June through mid-September. Though you will most likely see polar bears during this time, their peak season is in the fall.
- As I mentioned, the weather can change on a dime in Churchill during an time of the year, so it is wise to clothes that can layer.
- Bring a toque, better known as a beanie in America.
- There can be some pesky mosquitos out there, load up on the bug repellant.
- CURRENCY: The Canadian Dollar
- ELECTRICITY: Electricity: Plug Type A/B, 120v. Outlets are the same as the American-style, so there is not need for an adapter or convertor.
- WI-FI: Don’t expect to have too much cellular service in Churchill, but the Lazy Bear Lodge does provide really good internet.
- ACTIVITY LEVEL: Light – the hardest part of this adventure is dragging your kayak to the water, otherwise it just takes a bit of upper body strength to get to where the belugas are.
My trip to Manitoba was hosted by Travel Manitoba and Lazy Bear Expeditions, but all opinions are my own.