The most wonderful time of the year is whale watching season in Hawaii. Years before we moved to Hawaii, my husband’s family would come to Hawaii in the winter to see whales. They only would come to Hawaii when they knew they could see whales, usually around February.
Every winter, over 5,000 humpback whales travel from Alaska to Hawaii. They escape the cold and stay in the warm Hawaiian waters from November to May to breed, give birth, and nurse their young. They stay close to the shore, so you can spot them from the beach or from up on some of the islands’ trails.
Although the official whale watching season lasts from November until May, the peak season is from January-March, although some whales have already been spotted this year.
Whales are very important in Native Hawaiian culture. Hawaiian legends contain many stories about whales. Because Humpback whales are born in Hawaiian waters, they are considered kamaaina. This word translates to “child of the land” and is used to describe people who were born in Hawaii or who have lived here for many years. Whale season is considered a homecoming of sorts.
There are many different places and ways to see whales in Hawaii. Read more to learn how and where to spot them!
How to spot whales
There are a few things that you can look for when you are looking for whales.
First of all, look slowly and be patient. Whales tend to stay relatively close to the shore. It might take a while to see them, but they usually travel in pods. Where you see one whale, you will probably see more.
The easiest thing to see is a blow. Whales come up to the surface to breathe air, and a blow occurs when a whale exhales. Look for a cloud of mist just above the surface. If you see a blow, keep watching in that area because more activity might be coming or there might be more whales nearby.
Look for tails. You can usually see the tails come up out of the surface as they dive into the water. You might also see a tail slap, which is exactly what it sounds like. Whales slap their tails on the surface.
Sometimes you can a whale making a deep dive. You will know the whale is doing a deep dive into the water because you will see its back come out of the water. By pushing its back out of the water, the whale can go deeper into the water. Whales can stay underwater for about 20 minutes, so you might not see that whale again for a while.
If you are lucky, you might see a breach. A breach occurs when a whale jumps out of the water. The whale jumps out of the water and slaps the water as it comes back into the water. This is a breathtaking sight to see. You might have to keep your eyes peeled for a while, but it’s worth it.
Whale Watching Tour (all islands)
Although whale watching tours are offered on all of the islands, Maui is known to be the best place to see them. Oahu is a close second. If whale watching is important to you, I would highly recommend going to Maui or Oahu.
Boats will take you out as close as they are allowed by law. Whale watching tours are great because you get so close to the whales. Many tour companies guarantee that you will see whales or they will let you come on another tour.
A whale watching tour is a great option because you get very close to the whales. Plus, many tours offer coffee and lunch.
You can book a Whale Watching Tour on Maui through Hawaii Aloha Travel. Click here for more information.
Viewing spots on Oahu
If you don’t like boats or are looking to save some money, you’re in luck, because there are a lot of places throughout the islands where you can see whales for free. It will take a bit more work, and you will obviously be farther away, but it’s thrilling to find them on your own.
The Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail in Waimanalo is perfect for whale watching. You get up high, so you have a great vantage point, but you will obviously be a lot further away from the whales than you are on a boat tour.
The trail is free, paved and easy to hike, and you get up high enough to get a great view of the ocean.
Kaena Point the most western part of Oahu. It’s another great spot for seeing whales. Kaena Point is harder to access because you have to walk along the rocky shoreline for about 3.5 miles each way. You don’t get that bird’s eye view, either, but it’s a quiet, secluded, pristine spot. Plus, this is a great place to see monk seals.
Surprisingly, you don’t even have to leave Waikiki to see whales. Hike to the top of Diamond Head, and you might see them. Last year, I was eating breakfast in Waikiki at an ocean-view restaurant, and I saw a number of whales off in the distance.
Viewing spots on Maui
Lahaina was the center of whaling in Hawaii for many years, so you know that Lahaina is going to be a good place to see whales.
The shallow Auau Channel is known to be a great place to see whales. It runs between West Maui, Lanai, and Molokai.
So, the beaches along West Maui and South Maui have the best views of whales, including Makena, Wailea, Kihei, Ma’alaea, Olowalu, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua. Of these, Kaanapali Beach is known to be a prime spot to view whales. You might even see mothers with their young here.
If you choose to book a whale watching cruise out of Maui, know that most tours leave from Lahaina or Ma’alaea Harbors. Choose the harbor that is closest to your hotel. Tours leaving from both places will get you to the best views possible. These tour companies know where to go to find whales.
Tips for whale watching
Don’t spend all of your time looking through your camera lens. This is a mistake that I have made many times – and I never get great pictures. Unless you are a professional photographer, your photos will not do whale watching justice and you will spend the entire time looking through your camera instead of enjoying the experience. Take a few pictures and then set the camera down.
Bring binoculars, even if you are going on a whale watching cruise! You will be so amazed at the grace and beauty of these incredible animals.