Chancing upon a whale in the warm, tropical waters of Hawaii is a magical experience like no other. In fact, it’s not uncommon for it to be the highlight of any vacation here! In this article, we provide an introductory guide to Maui whale watching to answer any important questions you may have, such as the best time for whale watching in Maui and the best whale watching in Maui that Hawaii has to offer.
Why Whale Watching in Maui Is a Great Idea
It’s true, nature documentaries on your TV screen have never looked better and are available at the touch of a button. However, nothing beats the experience of being immersed in the wild, where nothing stands between you and mother nature. Whale watching is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience and can often be a life-changing moment for many who take the opportunity to go. Here are four reasons you should go whale watching in Maui and gain the experience of a lifetime.
Connect With Animals in Their Natural Habitat
Heading out on the waters of Maui is a far cry from the familiar hustle and bustle of city life. Whale watching offers a break from the stress of modern life and allows you to experience marine animals in their natural habitat. You will be awed by the beauty and majesty of these gentle giants as they skillfully navigate the waters they call home. If you’re lucky enough to come close, their sheer size may overwhelm you and even prove to be a humbling experience.
While whale watching is best from December to April due to the migration habits of Northern Pacific humpback whales, there are chances of spotting other sea creatures such as dolphins, false killer whales, melon-headed whales, and whale sharks throughout the year. We recommend our whale-watching eco-rafting tours, as they allow you to be close to the water and spot them at eye level, without having to peer over a railing or a crowd!
Reap the Health Benefits of Being in Nature
Did you know that studies have shown that nature can help to restore us mentally and physically?
Some physical benefits of being in nature are improved immune function, lower risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, accelerated healing, and fewer migraines. Furthermore, the mental health benefits include improved mental clarity and reduced ADHD symptoms.
It may be easy to forget, during the stress of everyday life, that human beings did not evolve to thrive in artificial lights and noisy cities. Improve your quality of life by taking a well-needed break and visiting the ocean, where mother nature will restore your zest for life.
No Two Experiences are the Same
Mother nature is vast, varied, and plentiful. You never know what animals you may see on your trip, or what wild, magical moments you might be able to experience. Many tourists who’ve gone whale watching quickly become addicted to the rarity of each moment and the hope of catching sight of something new or special. Don’t be discouraged if someone you know had a disappointing experience, every trip is different and that's the beauty of it. There are tours that guarantee a whale sighting and offer a free additional tour in the event that no whales turn up! No single experience can capture the endless variety of what the ocean offers.
Reconnect With Your Inner Self
Last but not least, whale watching can immerse you in tranquility and peace that is impossible to come by in a busy city environment. This allows you to unplug and enjoy the feeling of being grounded. As you bob on the serene waters and breathe in the fresh air, you may find a restoration of meaning and purpose to your life in the connection between your inner self and the miraculous world around you.
Why do Whales Migrate to Maui Every Year?
As many as 12,000 whales will migrate from the cold Alaskan waters to Hawaii yearly to mate and give birth. For Northern Pacific humpback whales, which are the focus of most whale watching tours, the gestational period is 11 to 12 months. This means that the whales will mate in Hawaii for one year, and return next year in order to give birth. Many whales are actually returning to Maui where they were born to continue the life cycle.
Where is the Best Spot in Hawaii for Whale Watching?
You’ll be able to see whales from any one of Hawaii’s islands. However, Maui is undoubtedly the best place for whale watching since most whales will travel through the shallow waters of the Auau channel and reside in the Maui Nui Basin. This increases your chances of spotting one, especially if you’ll be staying on the Western side of Maui.
While you can absolutely spot whales from dry land, we recommend heading onto the water with a whale watching tour boat and marine naturalist. This increases your chances to be closer to humpback whales and have a more immersive experience as you experience the true majesty and sheer size of these awesome creatures!
Where is the Best Place in Maui to See Whales?
Maui is home to many humpback whales, and people often travel to Maui just to check whale watching on their bucket list. It is a stage for some of the most majestic performances of whales. So, if you are heading to Maui for whale watching but don’t know exactly where to spot them from, don’t worry it’s not as overwhelming as it may seem. There are many spots to catch whales in action, but here are some of the best places to see whales in Maui.
Once home to the capital of the Hawaiian Islands and the whaling economy that bloomed with the coming of trans-pacific visitors, Lahaina is the best place for whale watching. Departing from here will ensure the best experience as you spend almost all your time out at sea and amongst the whales. The weather is the most consistent anywhere on the island and the reef that runs along Lahaina’s coast is a favorite for whales to raise their young. In addition, you can also enjoy the view of many other marine life off the west side of the island like eagle rays and dolphins. Venture to the west side and enjoy some of the best whale watching experiences in Lahaina.
La Perouse Bay
La Perouse Bay is home to many archaeological sites, such as canoe hale, salt pans, fishing shrines, temples, coastal plants and many more. It is often visited by Spinner dolphins and whales because of the shallow and calm bay that offers them a resting spot. Snorkeling and scuba diving are also options for those who want to spend time in the waters after whale watching. This is the perfect place to get a glimpse of the majestic creatures.
Secret Beach and Makena Cove
This is the best place for those who enjoy paddling through the calm, clear waters. Over the crystal-clear waters of South Maui, make sure you take a tour in the morning as the weather on the south side of the island tends to become windy mid to late morning. Besides the many aquatic animals and the underwater places you can snorkel through, the highlight is the humpback whales. Keep your eyes peeled because it is the migrating and mating areas of the whales. But remember to keep a safe and respectful distance.
Hookipa Beach Park
Located along the North Shore of the island and nine miles from the Kahului airport, Hookipa beach park may sneak you a glimpse of whales. Popular among surfers, you may spot a whale while sitting on the beach watching the surfers. If you’re on the northeast side of the island, look for whales when you stop at Hookipa beach park.
When you visit Maui, choosing the best place to see the whales is crucial because you don’t want to miss them and have to find another spot. Along the west coast of Maui and Lahaina the water is referred to as the Maui Nui Basin which is the most populated spot for whales. This area was designated a federal sanctuary for humpback whales in the 1990’s due to the majority of the whale population residing in this one location. Get recommendations from the locals, read reviews, talk to the owners and crew to learn more about your best options for a whale watching tour. This way, you can also get a closer view of the majestic creatures, something you won’t forget for a lifetime.
What Types of Whale Watching Tours are There in Maui?
There are five types of whale watching tours:
- Outrigger Canoe
Which One Should You Pick?
The main differences between the above types of whale watching tours are group size, proximity to water, and the amount of physical effort required.
For tourists who’d simply like to kick back and enjoy their experience while listening to a guide, catamarans, sailboats and rafts are ideal choices. Catamarans involve the largest group sizes – usually over 100 people. Sailboats may take groups of 60 people or less, while rafts take even smaller groups. Out of these three, rafts also offer closer proximity to the water at eye level for a better view. Our award-winning Maui eco-rafting tours take less than 16 people out to the ocean at a time, thereby promising each person an oceanfront seat without having to peer over a railing or a crowd!
If you’d like to get in some exercise while whale watching, however, kayaks or outrigger canoes may be attractive choices. However, the reliance on your group’s physical effort means that you will cover much less ground as compared to regular boat tours.
When is the Best Time to Go Whale Watching in Maui?
Whale watching typically begins in December and continues into April. Any time of day is the ideal time to watch whales, they are active and resting in intervals 24 hours a day! It really depends on exactly what you are looking for.
Maui really does have something to offer throughout the year. For those that are all about snorkeling you are pretty good throughout the year. If it is possible for you to schedule your trip during off-peak times you may want to think about it. Pretty much everything will be a bit less crowded and you will probably save on flights and hotel stays. For those that want to make sure to see some humpback whales, the times are a bit more limited.
The humpback whale season here on Maui officially begins in December and finishes in May. We typically stop offering whale watching tours on May 15th because there are just too few whales to guarantee a worthwhile experience with multiple sightings. That said, whale sightings can be sparse closer to the beginning and end of each season. We often wait until the middle to end of December to begin our whale watching tours. Sometimes we see whales arrive as early as October and remain through the end of May with a few stragglers around in early June. Maui’s whale season has peak activity occurring between January and March.
Are there Enough Whales around for an Exciting tour?
The answer is yes! There are still plenty of whales around and we have had some pretty great tours in the last few days. The warm shallow waters surrounding Maui are really quite small when you think about it. Our rafts are super-fast and if we see action off in the distance we can zip you there in no time.
What Time of Year to Book a Maui Whale Watching Tour
Wondering what's the best weather for a Maui Whale watching tour? The peak of whale season in Maui is typically in the latter winter months. While many expect Maui to be sunshine all year round, this island is home to six major microclimates.
This means Maui is not a one-size-fits-all vacation in terms of weather. You can go from frost and freezing temperatures at 10,000 feet on top of the dormant volcano to sea level sandy beaches in less than a few hours. Same goes from the humid rainforest of Hana to the arid south side of Maui.
When planning your winter vacation to Maui, make sure that you are prepared for the different tropical weather elements that you may counter overall and especially on your whale watching adventure!
Whale watching in Maui typically occurs between December and April with the peak of this being from January to March. However, there have been whale sightings reported in the months leading up to and after this timeline (however, they are rare and most whale tours stop offering dedicated whale watches past that timeline).
That is not to say that if you are on a private snorkel or other marine life tour that you might not see whales. While whale experts like our captains at Hawaii Ocean Rafting are unparalleled in their ability to spot and safely approach whales; it is nearly impossible to track down the earlier arriving whales prior to December because there are so few.
What is Winter Weather in Maui?
Rain doesn’t bother whales much like it does humans that opt for an adventure aboard the ocean rafts that track them down! Because Maui is a tropical island in the middle of the pacific, weather reports are rarely accurate. At Hawaii Ocean Rafting however, we use special NOAA and sailing weather reports to get the most accurate weather for our whale watching destinations.
Just like the time of day, there are no seasonal or overall weather trends that appear to affect whale activity or behavior. West Maui, the best place to leave from for a whale watching adventure, is also located on the leeward side of the expansive West Maui Mountains, which is why many refer to Lahaina as a “desert”. In fact, this is how it is categorized amongst environmentalists.
That desert atmosphere ensures that visitors and residents of the west side encounter the greatest amount of sunny days and least amount of wind and rain on the entire island of Maui. The west side of Maui has the best chances for a shining day out on the water and the best possible weather for whale watching in Maui. If the weather turns to a tropical storm and the whale tour is not doable, tours can be rescheduled or refunded for the guests benefit.
How to Book a Winter Whale Watching Tour
When you are looking to book a whale watching tour during the peak season, we recommend that you aim for the peak season. However, we know that tickets can sell out fast especially for an intimate marine experience like what our 27-foot raft has to offer.
If you can’t manage to secure a spot during the peak time, we recommend you reserve a whale watching tour starting in December so that you are sure to see one of these mammals during yours and their time in the South Pacific. There may be fewer whales early and late in the season, but it only takes one amazing humpback whale encounter for an unforgettable whale watch.
The best way to book a tour would be online through our instant booking platform that we host on the Hawaii Ocean Rafting website or by getting in touch with us so that we can properly recommend the whale watching tour that is sure to be the biggest hit for you and any guests you decide to bring with you!
Maybe a Snorkeling Tour is your Best Bet?
As the year progresses into May you may want to consider booking a snorkeling tour instead. Our trips will take you to the island of Lanai for either a half or full day of snorkeling. What many may not realize is that the trip to Lanai takes you right through the very waters where the whales are always most abundant. This time of year, all of our snorkeling tours are part whale watch.
So, yes, there is still time left for a whale watch! you will save a few bucks if you book direct.
Do you have children?
There are always a few extra considerations for those travelling with a family. You will quickly find that a lot of the school holidays around the country happen within days and weeks of each other. This means that there are quite few people trying to travel at the same time, resulting in high seasons. The closer to the beginning or end of these holiday seasons that you can book your travel the better. Travelling on an actual holiday is also recommended to avoid crowds and save a buck. When traveling during high seasons it is imperative that you book your tours in advance. Whale watching season can sell out fast during peak season which coincides with the Thanksgiving through New Years holidays. Another option is taking the kids out of school for a week. Many teachers will help to put together some homework and assign a report about the vacation. Sometimes an experience can teach more than they can ever find in a book.
How is your Budget?
Most of us are on a budget, and who doesn't like to save a buck or two? First either prepare to book a hotel far in advance or be flexible enough to book the night before on a site like Priceline. Hotel prices vary greatly here on Maui; if you can travel outside of the high seasons, you will save big. Flights also vary greatly; try using an app like Hopper to see if you are getting a good deal or if you should wait for the price to drop. Finally, you can save an automatic 15% on all of our tours when you book directly online.
How Much Does it Cost?
We offer a range of prices starting from $54 per child and $69 per adult, depending on the time of visit and age, and even have a discounted price for tourists who’d like to whale watch in the afternoon. Private charter prices begin at $900. Visit our website today to learn more about our award-winning tours and experience the majesty of these gentle giants!
Get the Most Out of Your Maui Whale Watch
As soon as you start shopping around for your whale watching tour you will probably be surprised by the variety out there. Tour size is one if the main differences among the various tours out there. Some of the large vessel tours out there can take upwards of 60 passengers at once. While these larger vessels are right for some folks, many find them a little stressful. Large vessels have numerous restrooms and even a gift shop. You can find yourself jockeying for a view or even having to move from one side of the vessel to the other just to catch a glimpse of the whales. These large vessels are often pretty slow moving and you may spend more time traveling than actual whale watching. A smaller tour is usually aboard a smaller vessel and takes far fewer passengers. Our smaller raft style vessels are low profile and allow you to get an eye level view from each seat on the boat. Our rafts are fast and allow us to spend less time travelling and more time whale watching. If you like a little bit of adventure and prefer to avoid the crowds, a small group tour is for you.
Our Captains and crew didn't just stumble into positions aboard whale watching boats in Maui. They love where they live and the ocean and its inhabitants as well. One of our Captains actually runs whale watching tours year-round. He follows the whales between Maui and Alaska each season. As you watch these gentle giants you may have all kinds of questions pop into your head, please ask! We love to share knowledge and increase awareness about these wonderful creatures!
Take Advantage of Freebies
It can't hurt to ask about any freebies included with your tour. We can't speak for other tours but here are a few things you can expect on our tours. Each of our vessels is equipped with a fully stocked icy cold cooler full of free sodas, waters, and fruit juices. Feel free to help yourself or request a beverage at any time during the tour. Our crew is often using the Go Pro camera to capture underwater footage, just ask and they will send the footage directly to you. If you are quick to catch a chill or the weather is a bit stormy, we offer complimentary wetsuits to wear on the tour. Just ask before the boat leaves the dock!
Do Not Make These Rookie Mistakes While Whale Watching
You would be surprised at how many folks think that parking at the lookout with binoculars is whale watching. Some even claim to whale watch from the balcony of their condo. Not possible! Since most of you will be able to see some whale activity from your Lanai, why even go on a whale watching tour?
The fact is, you may not be able to truly understand the difference until you actually get out there on the water up close and personal. It is hard to gauge the actual size from shore; one may think they are like a giant dolphin. The actual size of an adult humpback whale is actually more like a school bus, and this is very clear when one swims under our raft. You can’t crowd together on a giant slow-moving boat and expect to have a high-quality whale watching experience. The only highlight of these bargain big boats is access to an onboard gift shop and restaurant. But.... isn't Front Street a big gift shop and restaurant? While lying by the pool with a Mai Tai is a wonderful way to spend a day or three, it is a borderline crime to not get out on a whale watch!
Don't Miss the Drama
The large puff of breath from a humpback is easily visible from shore and not an uncommon sight. You will quickly discover that this breath is no mere puff when it emits from a giant 10 feet from the raft. This breath is rumbling bass with a force of air that is shocking in its power. Going out on a whale watching tour allows you to experience the intricate relationships between mother and calf, bulls and escorts. The competition pod is turbulent and grand as a group of males compete for a mate.
Don't Miss the Intimacy
You may also witness the tenderness as a mother lifts her calf to the surface as a reminder to take a breath. The experience that really touches most of our guests is the "mugging". A "mugging" is when a whale takes a break and comes over to check us out, and they often pop up beside the raft and look us right in the eye. One of our favorite things to do is turn off our engines and drift. We put a hydrophone in the water so you can hear the whale songs being sung below.
So, here's the thing. You can't whale watch from the shore, and it is almost as hard aboard a giant tour vessel. The truth is you will never find the kind of experience that we offer anywhere else. We operate small group tours aboard speedy ocean rafts. You can get your food and shopping fix on Front Street and then just hop on one of our tours. Our tours are a full two hours devoted to the majestic humpback whales. Our vessels are fast and we make it a point to travel a bit further to avoid the crowds. The whales are actually bigger than our boats and each seat is literally a front row seat. You won't get better photo ops anywhere!
Still Don’t Believe Us?
Check out this recent review from Tripadvisor: "We went out with Sean and Lydia on July 28 for the half day snorkel trip to and from Lana'i. The snorkelling was fantastic on the other side of Lana'i. We saw dolphins (spinner and bottle nose) at three different locations! Sean and Lydia were excellent guides. This was actually our ninth trip out with Hawaii Ocean Rafting (we have been coming to Maui every summer for the last eleven years).
Our first year on the island we made the mistake of going out on one of those large boats (too many people, too far above the water, felt like cattle etc.) With this Hawaii Ocean Rafting you get to interact and meet everyone on the boat, and you are so close to the water that you can even put your camera underwater for pictures of dolphins. Looking forward to coming back next year and may even do the full day trip. Thanks Sean and Lydia for a great day out."
How To Make It Happen
Our tours leave throughout the day from Maui's Lahaina harbor. Book your whale watching tour directly through our website or give us a call at 808-661-RAFT and lock in 2016 prices throughout 2017!