Every winter, visitors of the Hawaiian islands receive a special treat. About two-thirds of the North Pacific humpback whale population return to Hawaii to breed and raise their young. As a result, whale watching in Hawaii is a popular activity for tourists and locals alike.
Although it’d be convenient, you can’t walk out to the ocean and instantly spot a whale. Instead, each Hawaiian island boasts certain spots where the whale watching opportunities are at their prime.
Where are the Best Spots for Whale Watching in Hawaii?
For the ultimate whale watching spot, head to what’s known as the Auau Channel. This is the area between West Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. The best way to access this channel is via a whale watching cruise.
In addition to the Auau Channel, visit these prime whale watching destinations on each island.
If you’re visiting the Big Island, your best chance at seeing a whale or two is in the areas just north of Kona, up the Kohala Coast, and near Hilo Bay.
Many visitors also head to the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site to keep an eye out for whales. In fact, Puukohola translates to “hill of whales.” The historic area offers vast views near Kawaihae Harbor for an excellent whale watching vantage point.
Since West Maui is part of the Auau Channel, it should come as no surprise that the entire island offers several prime whale watching spots. Down by Lahaina Harbor, you can sign up for a multitude of Lahaina whale watching cruises departing daily each season.
Whale watching cruises in Maui also depart from ports in Maalaea, Ka’anapali, Kihei, McGregor Point, and Wailea.
For more whale watching in Hawaii, head to Oahu. You will find excellent viewing points along Oahu’s north shore, easternmost tip, and southern shore. On the southern end of the island, visitors make their way to Makapuu Lighthouse for a heightened view of the ocean, searching for a glimpse of a humpback whale. Other areas for whale watching on Oahu include the overlooks near Diamond Head.
Kauai also boasts picture-perfect whale watching destinations such as Poipu Beach and Kilauea Lighthouse. Along the Na Pali Coast, the Kalalau Trail on the north shore is another popular spot. Several visitors also go to the Kapaa Overlook near Kealia Beach for a chance to see humpback whales out in the ocean, too.
Most whale watching cruises and tours in Kauai depart from Na Pali and Poipu. For an exhilarating whale watching adventure, why not cruise via raft? Or, if you prefer a more elegant approach to cruising, reserve your spot for a whale watching cocktail cruise along Kauai’s coast.
When is the Best Time to Go Whale Watching in Hawaii?
Although the whale watching season is technically from the beginning of November through the end of May, certain months offer higher chances of sightings than others. Towards the tail end of the season, humpback whale sightings are slim.
For the ultimate whale watching experience, visit any of the Hawaiian islands and book a cruise in January, February, or March. The humpback whale concentrations are at their highest during the beginning of each year.
Quick Tips for Whale Watching in Hawaii
To make sure your whale watching experience is an enjoyable one, keep our tips in mind.
Book a Whale Watching Cruise
While you could go to each island’s highest peaks and search for whales, you’ll have an easier time spotting them on a whale watching cruise. But, these cruises fill up fast, especially during peak viewing months. Book your whale watching cruise ASAP to secure your spot onboard.
Whether you trek to a nearby peak or join a cruise, binoculars are your friend when whale watching in Hawaii. Bring a pair of binoculars along for your whale spotting adventure.
Focus on the Experience, Not Your Camera
Although it’d be spectacular to capture the perfect shot of a whale breaching in the ocean, staring through a camera lens throughout your entire cruise will ruin the experience. Instead, try to enjoy yourself and not stress out on taking the award-winning picture. It’ll increase your chances of seeing whales, too!
Respect the Whales
All watercraft are required to stay a minimum of 100 yards away from the whales at all times. This is for your safety and the whales’. But don’t worry, you’ll still have excellent views. You should also respect the whales by not throwing anything overboard including food, garbage, and other items.
Arrive Early for Your Cruise
Arrive at least 30 minutes early to your cruise’s dock to ensure you don’t miss the departure. Cruises will not wait for late passengers!
While Hawaii may be warm, it can be chilly out on the water. Dress in layers such as a light jacket to avoid getting too cold.
Tours last anywhere from two to four hours long, so be prepared. Have a charged cell phone, bring snacks and water (if your tour company allows), and have extra cash on hand.
Book Your Whale Watching Adventure
Ready to go whale watching in Hawaii? Reserve your spot on a whale watching cruise today.