Meals on wheels? A unique all-terrain vehicle brings sightseers within touching distance of the world’s largest land predators.
The Tundra Buggy, a mammoth hand-built machine which towers 13ft over the arctic tundra, is capable of pulling a train of mobile lodges to create a “cruise liner on wheels” more than 200ft long, allowing lucky tourists the chance to observe wild polar bears in unparalleled comfort.
The machine, which is 11 feet wide and boasts wheels with a diameter of five feet, regularly crosses frozen tidal flats in Canada to bring guests nose-to-nose with the fearsome bears, before stopping for a night beneath the northern lights.
With tours, which range from one-day excursions to week-long expeditions, costing up to around £7,300 per person, tour operators bill it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The buggy was designed and built by Churchill resident Leonard Smith. Mr Smith built 14 such vehicles before selling his business to tour company Frontiers North Adventures, who continue taking visitors on expeditions to this day.
Frontiers North Adventures spokeswoman Brandi Hayberg said Mr Smith’s amazing machines have been transformed into modular all-terrain hotels.
She said: “We’ve updated the fleet and built new accommodation units called the Tundra Buggy Lodges.
“We now have two types of Tundra Buggies in our fleet, a 26 passenger and a 40 passenger vehicle.”
The mobile lodge contains a cafe, lounge and sleeping quarters, in addition to a large observation deck which allows passengers to get close up photos of eight foot tall polar bears.
Ms Hayberg said: “Bears are often interested in the Tundra Buggy and will approach it. Sometimes they will stand on their hind legs and put their paws on the side of the vehicle.
“Depending on the height of the bear, our guests can easily get their faces within a few feet of a polar bear.”
Ms Hayberg assured potential guests that the buggy is perfectly safe, as long as they employ basic common sense.
She said: “Our Tundra Buggies are too tall for the bears to reach the railing of the observation decks or the bottoms of the windows.
“We are always diligent to tell our guests that feeding the bears or littering on the tundra are strictly forbidden. If a guest broke the rules, the tour would end immediately.”
Despite the buggy’s hulking appearance, its presence on the tundra causes no distress to the indigenous bears.
Ms Hayberg said: “We participated in a study to find out if the buggies were detrimental in any way.
“The findings showed that only five per cent of bears showed any dislike for the buggies. The other 95 per cent were either interested to the point of approaching the buggies or didn’t mind their presence at all.”
The price for riding the Tundra Buggy ranges from a one-off day trip at £250 per person, to a fully catered eight night stay in the Tundra Buggy lodge which costs in excess of £6,000, to the exclusive Cape Churchill Adventure, which includes the services of two exeperienced guides.
Despite the hefty price tag Mr Hayberg insists it is a trip worth saving for.
She said: “We do realize that travel in the north is costly. Not everyone in the world will be able to make the journey.
“But getting the chance to see these incredible creatures in real life and then to learn about their lives and habitat from our guides really does seem to drive home the importance of living sustainably.
“Our hope is at the end of the tour our guests will have been inspired by their experience and will in turn return home with the intention of doing their part to help conserve our environment.”
Polar bears were listed as a threatened species by the US in 2008, however thanks to conservation efforts, the polar bear population along the Tundra Buggy’s route was last recorded as a stable 1,013.
For more information on the tour visit www.frontiersnorth.com.
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