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The Ultimate Guide to Maui Whale Watching
So you’re here because you want a guide to Maui whale watching. Welcome! My name is Amy, and I am a Hawaii Travel Agent. I book the island of Maui more than any other destination, and whale watching in Maui is one of the most popular excursions during the winter.
The winter months in Maui are simply spectacular. The temperatures are warm, and the winds are calmer. There might be a little more rain to deal with, but that is the price you must pay to enjoy this island of paradise.
You will discover that Maui is the perfect island for a vacation during the winter months because there is so much to do. Your list of activities in Maui might be longer than the time you have available.
Therefore, you may decide to skip a few things until your next visit. I’m all for saving stuff next time, but the one activity you won’t want to postpone is whale watching in Maui.
An abundance of whales arrive in the water surrounding this island during the winter months, and they are quite a sight to see. So, buckle up and keep reading to learn everything you need to know in this ultimate guide to Maui whale watching.
Do I need a rental car in Maui?
No matter which island you’ll be visiting, I recommend having a rental car; I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental.
Maui is a small island but spread out and you’ll need a car to explore it all. Hawaii is not the kind of destination where you spend all of your time at the resort.
You’ll find the best prices, great service, and free cancellation at Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You won’t pay until you arrive, so reserve early to get the best deal. Now, let’s get to the ultimate guide to whale watching in Maui!
Why Do Whales Go to Maui?
Whales travel to Maui during the winter months because the water averages a balmy 75 degrees. The warm ocean water is perfect for those baby whales still growing.
The shallower waters around the island are also preferred by both mom and baby whales. And since orca whales prefer the colder water, the whales that arrive in Maui are safe from their number one predator.
It is common to see at least 15,000 whales in the water surrounding Maui during the winter months. All those whales travel 3,000+ miles from Alaska to give birth and raise their babies until it is time to head back north in the spring.
I should also tell you that you can see whales from any of the Hawaiian Islands. However, Maui has the best whale watching opportunities. If you visit in the winter, I strongly recommend staying on the west side of the island if possible.
The Auau Channel goes between Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. Since the water is so shallow in the channel, many of the migrating whales spend their time in the water there. If you’re staying at one of the Maui resorts on the west side, you might see them from your own lanai!
If you want to learn more about whale watching on the other islands, check out The Best Time for Whale Watching in Hawaii.
When is the Best Time of the Year to Go Whale Watching in Maui?
Most of the whales begin to arrive in Maui between October and November. The official start date of the whale watching season is December 15th. Whale watching season ends around the beginning of April when the whales begin to migrate north. I’ve spotted a whale in Hawaii in early April, but most of the whale watching tours in Maui stop around April 1st.
Each month between December and March can be perfect for whale watching in Maui. January and February often have the most whales in the water, as the species’ arrival and departure times vary.
Plus, younger whales tend to arrive early and sometimes leave early. They are curious, just like little kids!
The months you do not want to attempt to go whale watching in Hawaii are from May through October. You may spot a couple of whales in the water, but they won’t be as active as they are during the winter months.
If you happen to take a vacation in Maui during the summer, I recommend sticking to dolphin watching.
Oh, and if you are wondering if there is a better time of day to go whale watching, there isn’t! Whales are active at all times of the day. The only thing you should keep in mind is that some afternoons are warmer than others.
If you do not like the heat or the sun’s strength (warning for all you fair-skinned people!), you may prefer a morning tour. Either way, make sure to pack plenty of reef-safe sunscreen as the sun is intense in Hawaii, and you may burn even if you typically do not.
Where are the Best Places to Go for Whale Watching in Maui?
You can easily stay on the shore of Maui and see the whales from dry land. This is especially true on the island’s western side, closest to the Auau Channel. Of course, you can also plan to take a whale watching tour and venture out onto the water.
Whale Watching from the Shoreline
Some of the best whale watching moments you have during a vacation in Maui will be while you are standing on the shoreline. As long as you find a safe place to stand, I guarantee you will see a whale in the water at some point during your trip.
I wouldn’t say I like to wait around when I am on vacation, though. I prefer to go where I will have the best chance to accomplish a goal. And since my main goal on Maui is to see a whale, I like to spend my time on land at these locations:
Ka’anapali Beach Walking Path
This walking path goes from Black Rock to the Hyatt. It is common to see whales out in the water from this path, so be patient and watch for one to come to the water’s surface as you are walking.
Olowalu is five miles to the south of Lahaina. Travel along the Honoapiilani Highway until you reach the Olowalu General Store and Leoda’s Kitchen. Follow the dirt road behind the store until you reach the viewing area.
Pu’u Ola’i Beach
There are numerous beaches on the island of Maui. This one is near Makena Beach, just off Wailea Alanui Drive. Pu’u Ola’i Beach is the perfect solution if you want to combine whale watching and time at the beach in a single day.
Wailea Oceanside Path
The Wailea Oceanside Path goes from Ulua Beach to the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel. You can walk this path at any time of the day to see whales during the winter. However, it is an excellent place to take a sunset stroll.
McGregor Point Lookout
Between Ma’alea and Lahaina is the scenic McGregor Point Lookout. The cliff’s height makes it one of the most popular locations for whale watching in Maui.
If you are lucky during your visit, you may find a marine naturalist from the Pacific Whale Foundation at a table near the lookout. They can answer any questions you may have about whales.
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center
The Visitor Center for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary can be found on South Kihei Road in Kihei. Inside the Visitor Center, you can learn all about the majestic whales out in the water. But don’t spend too much time inside, or you will miss all the whales breaching in the ocean.
Whale Watching on the Water
Going out on the water to see the whales up close can be more exciting than seeing them from the shoreline. There are many different types of whale watching tours in Maui. Each one is slightly different, including what type of watercraft you are on for the tour. I am sharing each watercraft below, so you can make an informed decision when choosing your whale watching tour.
If you are not visiting during the ‘peak’ of peak whale watching season, you won’t have an issue of not being able to see the whales. Although the tour operators rotate the boat and get people to spread out enough, viewing the whales isn’t usually an issue, even during the busiest times.
Smaller groups of people can venture out on the sailboat whale watching tours. Since fewer people are on board, you can usually get excellent pictures and videos of the whales. Many sailboat tours also offer better amenities, including a meal or your favorite beverages.
Rafts can create a bumpy whale watching experience out in the ocean, so it will definitely not be your best option if you have difficulty with motion sickness.
Being so close to the water in the raft is a plus when the whales glide up to the sides of the raft. This is definitely something I recommend doing if you can handle it. I recommend Hawaii Ocean Rafting.
Kayaking is another whale watching option that has you really close to the water and the whales. The best part about these tours is you get a little exercise in, as you are paddling out to the whales and back to the shoreline.
You won’t be able to get as far out in the water as you would in a catamaran or sailboat, but that usually isn’t an issue since the whales prefer shallow water anyway.
I recommend the Makena Turtle Town Eco-Adventure. If you’re visiting outside of whale season, it’s a great way to see turtles and other sea life. During whale season, of course, it’s a great place to see whales!
For centuries, the locals have been using outrigger canoes to paddle around the water. An outrigger canoe tour is perfect for your whale watching adventures if you are looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience.
Just like kayaks, you won’t be able to paddle too far out in the water, but you will still have plenty of opportunities to see whales up close.
The Best Whale Watching Tours on Maui
There are so many whale watching tours in Maui that it can be challenging to choose between them all. Planning is critical if you want a specific whale watching tour.
Failure to plan in advance is not a deal-breaker, though, when you are on vacation in Maui. There are always dozens of tour operators handing out pamphlets and directing you to their boats.
Maui Adventure Tours
The Maui Adventure Tour group leaves from Olowalu Beach for whale-watching adventures. Their most popular tours include kayaking out to the whales. You also get to jump in the water to do a little snorkeling with the sea turtles.
Ultimate Whale Watching
The whale watching groups are small with Ultimate Whale Watching since they utilize rafts for their tours. Their two-hour whale watching tour never has more than twenty-six people on board. Fewer people are on the rafts for their VIP tours, so that may be an option if you want a more personalized whale-watching experience.
From the moment you climb aboard the catamaran until you finally disembark, everything will be excellent with Sail Maui. This whale watching tour group ensures everyone has a good time while seeing the whales and other marine life.
In Kihei and South Maui
A small group of only twenty-four people will have you enjoying your time out on the water as you travel towards the whales. Your tour guide will share educational information about whales during the journey, but not in a boring way. Let’s just say you should be prepared to laugh and have fun during this tour. Check out Redline Rafting to book your Maui whale watching tour.
Kai Kanani’s whale watching tours leave directly from Maluaka Beach, so there isn’t a need to travel any distance before getting out on the water. If you are not near Maluaka Beach, you don’t need to worry. Kai Kanani offers a shuttle service from a few Wailea Resorts. The shuttle service must be arranged in advance, so keep that in mind when you are planning this tour.
The Cost of Whale Watching
The cost of whale watching in Maui is dependent on which tour you choose. Some tours offer more than others and you will want to keep that in mind when comparing prices.
What You Can Experience During Your Maui Whale Watching Trip
Whales are magnificent creatures and it is common for them to put on a show. Sometimes I think they know when people are watching! A few things you can experience during your tour include:
Almost everyone knows that when a whale breaches, they launch themselves out of the water before splashing back down again. Some whales will simply jump and land, while others may flip or turn before landing.
When a whale is spy hopping, they are basically floating vertically in the water with their head out of the water.
Every tour operator is required to stay 100 yards away from any whales they see. However, if a whale decides to approach the boat on its own, it is called mugging.
Adult whales in Maui surface approximately every fifteen minutes or so to breathe. The only time you won’t see a whale this often is if they are taking a deep dive. In those scenarios, they can last forty-five minutes before coming up for air.
When you see a blow from a whale, it is the condensed water from their lungs. The misty water can reach heights of twenty feet.
If you are close enough to a whale, you will know when they are leaving if you see their tail out of the water in a vertical position. While in this position, the whale is preparing to do a deep dive.
If you have never heard a whale tail slapping before, it can be a scary experience. Especially if you don’t know it’s coming. When a whale slaps their tail, it makes a gunshot sound. You can hear the noise all the way on the shore of the island.
Female whales can lift their large fins out of the water and use them to slap the water. The scientists believe the females do this to attract nearby males.
Whales make noise underwater and that noise is called a whale song. The only way to hear a whale song is to place a hydrophone in the water.
What to Take for Your Whale Watching Tour
When you head out with a tour group, there is very little you will need to take with you. A few items I recommend for your whale watching tour include:
- Camera (a GoPro is best!)
- Hat (this is my favorite sun hat!)
- Reef Safe Sunscreen
- Light Jacket – especially for those early mornings
- Small Binoculars – for those whales that are a little further away
My Biggest Tip for Whale Watching in Maui
One of the biggest tips I can share with you when it comes to whale watching in Maui is to go at the very beginning of your vacation. You may think this is an excellent way to end your trip to Maui, but what happens if you don’t see any whales??
Most of the whale watching tour operators guarantee that you will see whales. They won’t give you your money back though. What they will do is schedule you for another tour to try again. You won’t be able to take advantage of that free trip, or see any whales, if you are leaving!
Whale watching in Maui is one of the best activities on the island. This ultimate guide to Maui whale watching should have answered some of your biggest questions, so you can easily plan one for your next vacation.
More things to do in Maui
Now that you have read the ultimate guide whale watching in Maui, I’ve got plenty of other things to do on a Maui vacation. Check out the following blog posts to help you plan the most epic Maui vacation.
- 50 things to do in Maui
- The 40 best places to eat in Maui
- The ultimate guide to the Road to Hana
- The best boutique hotels in Hawaii,
- Snorkeling Molokini Crater, is it worth it?
- The best 5-star resorts on Maui.
- How to find Little Beach in Maui.
- 4 day Maui Itinerary.
- The 10 best honeymoon hotels in Maui
The ultimate guide to whale watching in Maui
I hope that you enjoyed this guide to whale watching in Maui. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!
If you need some help planning your Maui vacation, reach out! I am a Hawaii Travel Agent and that is what I do. I am selective about how many clients I work with, so reach out as soon as possible for the best availability. You can contact me to learn more.
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