The Wonders of Manitoba: Northern Lights, Belugas & More
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Northern Lights, Beluga Whales, and More Wonders of Manitoba
From southern Manitoba and its capital, Winnipeg, to Churchill and the "true north," William Kiburz of Coronet Travel created an itinerary that captures the diversity of Canada within one province. You’ll go from evenings exploring one of the continent’s most exciting culinary scenes to nights being dazzled by northern lights. The cultural highlights of Winnipeg’s museums are followed by natural wonders on the edge of Arctic, in a town where belugas and polar bears outnumber human residents.
You’ll arrive early in Winnipeg and have a full day to explore this city where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. Since before the first European settlers, all canoe routes led to the Forks, today the location of a lively market, a park with a river walk and your hotel for the night, Inn at the Forks. Just to the north of the Forks is one of the most remarkable additions to the city’s cultural scene, the Canadian Museum for Human Rightswhich opened in 2014. The galleries are as inspiring as the architecture of this soaring building, celebrating the heroism of human rights advocates, examining human rights law, and discussing dark moments in human rights history. After your visit and in preparation for your travels north, head to the Assiniboine Park Zoo and the award-winning Journey to Churchill exhibit that provides an introduction to the flora and fauna of Manitoba’s north, including nine orphaned polar bears. As you have an early start on Day 2, you’ll stay in for dinner. Fortunately one of Winnipeg’s liveliest restaurants, Smith, is at your hotel.
An early morning departure from Winnipeg on Calm Air, and a flight that’s just under two hours, brings you to Churchill on Hudson Bay. The small town of fewer than 1,000 residents is the base for wildlife expeditions in July and August. First, however, get the lay of the land as you explore Churchill itself. At the Parks Canada Visitors Center in the railway office, you can learn about the town and the ecology of the area. The friendly docents at the Eskimo Museum are happy to give visitors an introduction to their remarkable collection of Inuit carvings. Then Will can arrange a guided tour beyond the town limits, where you’ll learn about the flora that survives in the area’s extreme climate as well as Churchill’s fascinating Cold War past. Depending on your interests, your guide can take you to see shipwrecks along the coast, the Northern Studies Centre and other sights. For a small town, Churchill boasts remarkable restaurants especially during its busy summer and fall seasons. You can choose to dine at Gypsy’s, the Tundra Inn Dining Room, or the café at the Lazy Bear Lodge.
Today you’ll come face-to-face with some of Churchill’s most famous summer residents, beluga whales and polar bears. The relatively small beluga whales—adults measure some 15 feet—spend their summers in the Churchill River. Will can arrange kayaking and snorkeling outings where you’ll have a chance to get up close to these surprisingly social animals. If you spend your morning on a beluga expedition, then you’ll have time in the afternoon to head out on a tour in a tundra vehicle and see this fascinating landscape in its full summer glory with wildflowers in bloom. Keep your eyes open for arctic foxes, arctic hares, and some 200 different migrating bird species, and likely a polar bear wandering the coastline in the distance. In the evening you’ll experience an entirely different natural wonder when you head out onto the tundra with a guide to see the northern lights. Churchill is one of the best places in the world to see this celestial display that begins as a dim glow in the night sky and intensifies and brightens as the lights dance across the night sky.
Your return flight to Winnipeg doesn’t depart until late afternoon, giving summer visitors time to go on a boat tour across the Churchill River to the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site. The construction of the fur trade fort began in 1731 and after it was surrendered to the French in 1782, it was never used again. The dramatic ruins are located in a stunning setting, rising above the flat tundra and guarding the entrance to the Churchill River. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for a polar bear or two sunbathing along the rocky shores. You can also spend the morning learning about Canada’s Metis culture and sled dogs from a born-and-bred Churchillian musher. While you won’t be able to go on a sled ride, dog carting is as memorable as its cold-season counterpart. Head back to Churchill and then return to Winnipeg. After settling in at the Fairmont Winnipeg, you’ll head out to explore the Exchange District, where historic buildings now house boutiques and restaurants, and Osborne Village, named Canada’s greatest neighborhood in 2012 thanks to its youthful buzz and diverse restaurants. You’ll dine at one of Will’s favorite restaurants, Segovia, which serves a menu of classic and contemporary tapas.
Spend your final day in Winnipeg visiting the Manitoba Museum which covers the social and natural histories of the province or stop by the Winnipeg Art Gallery, home of the largest collection of Inuit art in the world. If you’d rather take it easy and unwind after your adventure in the far north, head to the Thermëa Spa which opened at the beginning of 2015. Visitors can relax in hot and cold pools in a woodland setting at this $11-million Scandinavian inspired spa.