White polar bears, green Northern Lights and blazing autumn tundra greeted guests on our exclusive Arctic Safaris for 2016 and National Geographic Creative photographer Jad Davenport, who is currently working on a book and film project about the world’s wildest journeys, joined guests as a surprise photo leader on Churchill Wild’s premier adventure.
The Arctic Safari is limited to 12 guests and two departures and includes the rare opportunity to spend two nights in a custom-designed tented camp on the Arctic tundra. The base for the ‘Safari’ half of the journey was Seal River Heritage Lodge, where guests were able to try out our new elevated lounge, huge fireplace and wildlife viewing area (and check out the stitched up bear bites on one of the soft, leather couches).
Roaming on foot, by ATV and zodiacs, Jad and the guests were able to track and photograph dozens of polar bears and Jad was also able to capture some rare footage of two polar bears hunting beluga whales during an all-day ATV drive.
A beautiful, sunny day combined with several pods of nearby belugas saw us launching the zodiacs for an impromptu snorkel, and on one of the short hikes to an archaeological site of Inuit tent rings near the Lodge, the guides and guests howled up a pack of six wolves. Jad filmed while one curious wolf trotted right up to the group to investigate.
During the evenings, guide Terry gave presentations on his experiences in the most remote corners of the Barren Lands, while Jad gave slide shows of his work with National Geographic and other magazines. Jad also worked one-on-one with guests, offering portfolio reviews and critiques over a glass of wine after dinner.
The ‘Arctic’ half of the journey saw guests flying by floatplane another 100 miles north and inland across the tree line into the heart of the vast Barren Lands. The flight offered spectacular opportunities to photograph the autumn taiga and tundra from the air, and soak up endless horizons untouched by any roads or towns.
The new, custom-built Tundra Camp was a huge hit!
The bright yellow expedition tents came complete with propane heaters, new cots, mats and warm sleeping bags. And because the camp was in the heart of bear country (barren ground grizzly bears, black bears and even polar bears range through the area), it was surrounded by a double electric (and alarmed) fence.
French-trained chef Mike and cheerful hostess Kim kept the champagne and Northern cuisine coming (guest favorites were bacon-wrapped moose sausage, snow-goose pie, and a traditional shore lunch of breaded trout and pike). Guide Terry and guide trainee Josh led a variety of hikes along rocky ridges and sandy eskers, sharing the history and culture of the people who lived there, and explaining how the flora and fauna have adapted to such a harsh environment.
One five-mile exploratory hike took three adventurous guests to within sight of the Nunavut border. Several caribou and bald eagles were spotted, along with recent signs of grizzly bear and wolf activity. Jad, Josh and Kim also celebrated the sunny weather with a brief dip in the lake.
After dinner, guests gathered around the campfire for hot chocolate and aperitifs and when the Northern Lights lit up the sky, Jad helped guests capture gorgeous ‘blue hour’ shots of their glowing tents with the Aurora Borealis above.
On leaving Tundra Camp, a guest from Australia commented:
“I just never understood how big the Barren Lands were. You go to the Serengeti and you’re never far from a fence or a road. But up at Tundra Camp you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s true wilderness. When you turn off your lantern at night, you feel this awesome, deep silence. It’s just you and the stars and the Northern Lights.
“It’s pure magic.”
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What fun to see the photos and recap of the 2016 Arctic Safari – it was such an incredible trip. I’d been wanting to get out into the heart of the Barren Lands for over a decade, and seeing it at the peak of the autumn foilage was spectacular. It’s truly unlike any other wild place on the planet, it makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the ice age. And the wildlife around Seal River Lodge was a big bonus – I still have to edit through several thousand bear and wolf images. I can’t wait to go back next autumn.