We’re smack-dab in the middle of winter’s humpback whale season in Hawaii, and you don’t have to take a whale-watching cruise to encounter the majestic leviathans when their annual migration brings them to Hawaii waters to mate, give birth, and nurse their young.
On Oahu, for example, there are four popular spots that are easy to get to which offer your best chance to see humpback whales in their natural environment. Three of them are along Oahu’s southeastern tip, the other on the North Shore.
About a mile past Hanauma Bay on Kalanianaole Highway is the Molokai Lookout. It’s little more than a parking lot along the sea cliffs, but on clear days it offers a clear view of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui. During humpback whale season, the gentle giants often pass within a couple of hundred yards of the cliffs, close enough to hear their blowholes and the explosive splashes of their breaches. The cliffs are dangerous, deadly even, so pay close attention to signs and use common sense.
About another mile along the highway, just before Sandy Beach, is the Halona Blowhole Lookout. Famous for the spouting hole in the rocks that shoot 50-feet in the air at times, the lookout offers a similar view as the Molokai Lookout, but with more parking (and tour buses). And the famous From Here to Eternity Beach is just below the lookout. This is also a dangerous place. Be careful, and stay away from the blowhole.
The Makapu‘u Lighthouse walking trail has been greatly improved over the past few years, with increased parking and an improved path. It offers a perfect view of the humpbacks as they navigate the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu. Worth the trip for the views alone, the Makapu‘u Lighthouse is a popular trail for residents and visitors alike because of its accessibility. It can often be crowded. It’s also a trail along a sea cliff, so use extreme caution and stay on the trail.
The famous big wave spot on Oahu’s North Shore is best known for its giant surf and the brave men who ride it. But it is also a favorite hangout for visiting humpbacks, who can be seen breaching and frolicking at the mouth of the bay during humpback whale season.
Many swimmers and surfers have repeated hearing their whale song while in the bay’s waters. But humpback whale season happens at the same time as the North Shore’s big wave season and its waters are often closed to the public due to dangerous surf. The beach is elevated, though, so visitors and residents alike line the beach (at a sensible distance) to see the whales as they pass.
Bonus: Waikiki Beach
For the careful observer, humpback whales can often be seen in the waters off of Waikiki. Whether from the beach, the water, or the comfort of an ocean-view hotel room, visitors have only to gaze toward the horizon to have a chance to catch a mother and calf lolling in the waves, or a rambunctious male breaching.
Of course, there are countless places around the state that offer prime whale watching locations that only locals will know about. But these four on Oahu are conveniently located and are already popular tourist destinations.