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the Best Time for Whale Watching in Hawaii
Hawaii is an incredible destination to witness the majestic beauty of whales! The best time for whale watching in Hawaii is during the winter months of December, January, February, and March.
During these months, the warm waters of Hawaii attract a variety of whale species, making this the ideal time for whale watching in Hawaii. So grab your binoculars and get ready for an unforgettable experience.
Since you will be visiting in the winter, check out the best island to visit in Hawaii in December.
DO I NEED A RENTAL CAR IN Hawaii?
Before we talk more about whale watching in Hawaii, let’s get to one of the most common questions I get as a Hawaii Travel Agent. When you plan a Hawaii vacation, getting a rental car is a must on every island except Oahu. But, even on Oahu, I recommend having a vehicle for the best experience!
I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. They have the best rates and free cancellation. You can pick up your car at any of the airports in Hawaii. You won’t pay until you pick up your vehicle; the cancellation is free.
If you want to find the best flights to Hawaii, I recommend signing up for free alerts with Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights).
The Best Time for Whale Watching in Hawaii
Now let’s get back to whale watching. So, when is the best time for whale watching in Hawaii? Answer? The winter months.
The months of December through March are the best times for whale watching in Hawaii during their annual winter migration. These are considered the winter months in Hawaii. Whales migrate to Hawaii during the winter season to take advantage of the warmer water.
This annual whale migration in the North Pacific Ocean is quite a sight to see. I always recommend that whale lovers time their Hawaii vacation for migration season. This is when the whales will be surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands.
February and March aren’t too busy in Hawaii, making it an even better time to visit! Also, don’t worry about the weather. I have a blog post about the worst time to visit Hawaii. So the short answer is that, weatherwise, it’s always a good time to go to Hawaii! The winter months are no exception.
What kinds of whales can you see in Hawaii?
The number one type of whale you’ll see in Hawaii during the winter are the famous humpback whales.
In addition to humpback whales, you may also see sperm whales and false killer whales. The latter are oceanic dolphins. You may think you are spotting an orca when you see one. Unfortunately, orcas are rare to see in Hawaii. So, while it is possible, the fact is you probably spotted a false killer whale instead.
A few people will tell you that vacationing in Hawaii in late November will allow you to see these majestic creatures. However, while you can see some whales during that time, the peak whale season is later. I’ve also seen whales in April, but the best time is definitely December-March.
What is the Best Month for Whale Watching in Hawaii?
The peak months for whale watching are between the middle of January and March. This peak season is when all the tour operators will be out taking visitors to the best places to see the whales.
Hawaii has become one of the most popular places to travel in the United States during whale-watching season. It is best to plan your vacation in Hawaii early so you don’t miss out on any of the excitement.
Where to Go Whale Watching in Hawaii
You can easily go on a whale-watching tour from any of the islands. However, since this isn’t really helpful, I will share a little more about whale watching from the main Hawaiian Islands.
The Best Places for Whale Watching in Maui
The ‘Au ‘au Channel (often referred to as the West Maui Channel) between Lanai, Molokai, and Maui contains shallow water. Whales seem to love spending time in the channel. This is your best chance to see whales from the coastal areas.
The water between these islands is also referred to as the Maui Nui Basin. So keep that in mind if you start talking to the locals about whale watching.
Other amazing areas to watch the whales from shore include:
- Pu’u Ola’i Beach
- Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center
- McGregor Point Lookout
- Lahaina Pali Trailhead
- Wailea Oceanside Path
- Ka’anapali Beach Walking Path
- Makena Beach
If you are curious about the whales and want to learn more about them, I recommend heading to McGregor Point Lookout. Marine naturalists from the Pacific Whale Foundation are usually there. They can answer any questions you may have. You can learn quite a bit in just a few minutes.
The Visitor Center at the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in South Maui is one of the best places on Maui to watch humpback whales breach. Have your camera ready to capture these gentle giants!
Whale watching from the land.
Watching the whales from land is incredible. But getting a closer look at them in the warm waters of Hawaii is even better. You can head out in a kayak, sailboat, outrigger canoe, or catamaran to see these massive creatures up close. Just don’t get too close. They need their space.
And remember, it is actually illegal to get too close to humpback whales. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. So, you must stay at least one hundred yards from these magnificent creatures.
Whale tours are another way to get closer to the North Pacific humpback whales. Whale watching tours are available from Lahaina Harbor, Kihei, and South Maui.
You will also likely see whales during a snorkeling tour in Maui, such as my favorite: Molokini Crater.
The best whale-watching tours in Maui include:
- Eye-Level Whale Watching on an Eco-Raft
- Quick whale-watching tour from Lahaina Harbor
- Turtle town snorkel and whale watching
The Best Places for Whale Watching in Oahu
On the island of Oahu, you can usually spot adult humpbacks from Sharks Cove, Turtle Bay, Lanai Lookout, and the Halona Blow Hole. Those are all on the North Shore of Oahu. However, it’s possible to spot whales on all other parts of the island, including the south shore, where you’ll find Honolulu and Waikiki.
If you spend most of your time in the Waikiki area, don’t worry. You can still see whales from there.
Other incredible places to see whales in Oahu include:
- Hanauma Bay
- Makapu’u Lighthouse
- Diamond Head
The best way to see the whales in Oahu is by securing seats on a whale-watching boat tour. Some of these are snorkeling tours. Entering the water to snorkel is one of the best ways to see small fish and other marine life. You may even get to see a coral reef during this adventure.
Many magnificent creatures live in the ocean, and snorkel tours are the best way to experience it all. You may even spot dolphins during your time in the water.
One of the best boat tours in Oahu is the Waikiki Whale Watching tour. There is also a small group rafting tour in West Oahu.
The Best Places for Whale Watching in Kauai
There are three incredible places for whale sightings on the island of Kauai. The Kilauea Lighthouse, Makahuena Point, and the Kapa’a Lookout are those places.
Other places you may spot whales in Kauai include:
- Poipu Beach
- Kalalau Trail (make sure to get a reservation)
Snorkeling and sailing tours are available on Kauai. One of the best things about these boat tours is they also include whale-watching opportunities. You can see the whales as you are near massive sea cliffs and remote beaches or heading towards rushing waterfalls. There is no better way to experience the beauty of Kauai.
A favorite Hawaii whale watching tour in Kauai leaves from Port Allen. Captain J’s Offshore Adventures uses larger boats, so you have more room. Kauai Zodiac Tourz allows you to listen to whale songs through their hydrophone. These tours are on a small boat, so keep that in mind.
The Best Places for Whale Watching on the Big Island
One of the best places to see whales on the Big Island is the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. This historic site is on the Kohala Coast.
After exploring the ancient Hawaiian temple, you can look out over Kawaihae Harbor. Lots of whales gather in that harbor during peak season.
Other good places for whale sightings on the Big Island include:
- Kapa’a Beach Park
- Holoholokai Beach Park
- Pololu Valley
- Lapakahi State Historical Park (it’s also a great place to learn about Hawaiian culture and history)
There are numerous whale watching boat tours on the Big Island. However, I recommend choosing a small-group tour when possible. This way, you won’t be trying to see around crowds of people when the whales are in view. A small group will also allow you to ask your guide more questions.
Hang Loose Boat Tours has a larger boat that leaves from the Kona Coast. I also love any tours by Body Glove. Wherever you stay, you can find a whale-watching tour nearby. You won’t need to travel too far to reach the boat.
What is the Best Island for Whale Watching?
Now that you know where to go whale watching on some of the Hawaiian Islands, you may wonder which island is best.
Let’s see how many whales are near each island yearly. Volunteers for the Sanctuary Ocean Count count the number of whales in a specific area every fifteen minutes.
In January of 2022, this was how many whales were counted near each island during one of those fifteen-minute intervals.
- Maui: 122 whales
- Oahu: 107 whales
- Kauai: 59 whales
- Big Island: 19 whales
You can find all the reporting information here: Results – https:oceancount.org
Obviously, Maui whale watching is the best. However, the great thing about Hawaii is that you can easily see whales on all of the islands. There are many more whales in the Hawaiian waters around that island. I have a post with The Ultimate Guide to Maui Whale Watching if you choose Maui.
So, if you want to see the most whales and have the chance to see a baby humpback whale with mother whales, head to Maui. Just make sure you avoid the summer months and vacation there during whale watching season.
Remember, the time of year you visit will make all the difference with how many whales will be in the water.
Oahu vs. the Big Island for Whale Watching?
While Maui is the best spot for whale watching in Hawaii, you may want to vacation on the Big Island or Oahu instead. In that case, you may be wondering which one of these islands has the best spots for seeing whales.
Oahu has more whales than the Big Island. However, they both probably have the same number of boat tours. So, if seeing many whales is important to you, I would head to Oahu. And if you don’t care how many whales you see, then the Big Island will allow you to see at least a few.
FAQs About Whale Watching in Hawaii
Here are some commonly asked questions about whale watching in Hawaii:
Types of Whale Watching Tours in Hawaii
There are quite a few different types of whale watching tours in Hawaii.
The locals have used outrigger canoes on the calm waters around Hawaii for years. During this type of tour, you must row out to where you can see whales. This is one of the best ways to exercise while spotting whales in their natural habitat.
Oh, and don’t think you will be rowing for miles during these tours. Your guide will know where the whale feeding grounds closest to shore are located.
A kayak is another option when you want to paddle along the ocean surface to the whales. These tours are like those done in the outrigger canoes. However, they are all closer to the mainland.
Heading out on a rafting tour is a great way to see the whales. These are usually small group tours. Of course, riding in a raft can end up being a bumpier ride. However, being so close to the surface of the water is nice when the whales decide to swim up closer.
A catamaran ride is perfect for those who don’t mind being with lots of other people. These larger boats can normally fit around one hundred people. Thankfully, the tour operator maneuvers the boat so everyone has ample opportunities to see the whales.
Sailboat – Sailboats allow you to venture out on the water with a smaller group. These smaller boats usually have an open bar. So, you can indulge in a drink at an additional cost. You may even want to secure a spot on one of the boats that offer breakfast.
What is the Best Time of Day for Whale Watching?
Marine biologists always say that whales are not most active at a specific time of day. So I like to head out on the water to watch whale in the early morning.
Plus, since you have the best bet of seeing whales at any time, you may as well be comfortable doing it!
How to Spot a Whale in the Ocean
Spotting humpback whales in the ocean is relatively easy due to their size. Also, since they spend a lot of time at the surface, you can see them better than other whales.
As you are looking out at the water, check for anything unusual. For example, the water may have a sheen, which means an animal might be there. You may even spot an area that looks like there are multiple creatures in one spot.
Obviously, a breaching whale will be the easiest to see out in the ocean. But knowing what to look for beforehand will ensure you have your camera ready when the breach occurs.
the Best Time for Whale Watching in Hawaii
There you have it, all of your questions answered about the best time for whale watching in Hawaii and so much more. Did you learn anything new today? Do you have anything you’d like to share about whale watching in Hawaii? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
More Hawaii travel ideas
For more Hawaii travel tips, check out some of my most popular blog posts:
- The 15 best resorts in Maui for families
- Guide to Volcanoes National Park
- 25 things to do on Kauai
- The best restaurants in Waikiki
- What not to do in Hawaii (30 things you should never do in Hawaii)
- How to survive the flight to Hawaii & how to fight jet lag in Hawaii
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