Paddling out into the river, it was hard to grasp just quite how far north I was. But sitting in a little yellow kayak, mere yards behind me swirled the Hudson Bay. And each stroke of an oar pushed me farther through subarctic waters toward the afternoon’s highlight: Beluga whales.

Churchill, Manitoba is known as the "polar bear capital" in October and November during bear season, but the tourism anarchist in me couldn't resist going in August. And while I desperately did want to see wild polar bears too, an off-peak visit in summertime also meant kayaking with whales on the Churchill River.

It's somewhat of a commitment to make one's way to Churchill. There aren't any roads, so a lengthy train ride from Winnipeg, a sea vessel, or a tiny prop-plane is the only way to reach this tiny community. But even that journey made the trip feel like an adventure.

Now in the water, alert for swimming creatures, I scanned my surroundings while paddling along. Within minutes, whitish figures glided nearby beneath the murky brown water. The flip of a tail fin was followed by the whooshing sound of water spurting from the surface as a whale came over to check us out.

Thanks to the kayak's transparent bottom, I could see what looked like a cross between a dolphin and a manatee. Now several whales frolicked close by, seemingly just as curious as the humans who took trains and planes to pay them a visit...

To see what we saw—and more—watch the full Churchill adventure video, above, which I co-hosted with Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid.

Kim Mance is a travel writer and editor of