Calling all wildlife lovers: from Hilo to Hanalei, Hawai‘i boasts one of the largest seasonal populations of North Pacific humpback whales in the world as they commence their annual winter migration from the Gulf of Alaska to the North Pacific Ocean.
Visitors travelling to the volcanic archipelago between November and May are in for a treat as thousands of 45 tonne magical mammals fill the tropical waters surrounding the islands.
It’s possible to get up close and personal with the humpback whales, or koholā as locals fondly refer to the guardian animal, on a boat trip – or you can even view whales breach from the shore!
The largest concentration of whales reside between the shallow ‘Au‘au Channel between Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i. Below is a list of some of the boat tours available this season:
Hawai‘i’s largest company offering ocean tour experiences has just launched daily whale watching cruises. While searching for humpback whales, guests can enjoy a buffet lunch and panoramic cruise on board the 150-foot Majestic. A naturalist is on hand to provide guests with educational information about the whales’ behaviour and biology. Tours start from $40 for children and $69 for adults.
Pacific Whale Foundation
Certified Marine Naturalists provide an innovative and educational whale watch eco tour, offering sailings from both Mā‘alaea and Lahaina Harbours. Guests can choose from a number of different excursions, ranging from sunrise cruises, whale safaris and sunset cocktail sailings. Tours start from $35.
Lāna‘i Ocean Sports
Tours depart from Mānele Small Boat Harbour and include whale watching expeditions, as well as snorkelling excursions, PADI certification courses and private tours.
Captain Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watch
For more than 35 years, Captain Dan McSweeney has been known for his pioneering efforts on behalf of whales and dolphins. The tours specialise in whale watching and learning adventures and visitors are guaranteed sightings or invited to come along again for free. Tours start from $110.
For those looking to remain on land, check out the top humpback whale spotting viewpoints:
The Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail, O‘ahu
The lookout point is at the most eastern part of O‘ahu, just off Kalaniana‘ole Highway after Waimānalo and Sandy Beach. Boasting spectacular views of Moloka‘i, the channel is also a popular route for migrating whales and the state park provides telescopes for those wanting a closer view.
Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, Island of Hawai‘i
Pu‘ukoholā, ‘the hill of the whale’, offers a great free observing spot with its elevated views over Kawaihae Harbour. Located next to Spencer Beach Park, there are plenty of picnic tables and a campground, allowing visitors to maximise their experience whilst whale watching.
Kīlauea Lighthouse, Kaua‘i
The elevated peninsula offers an excellent viewing point for whales spouting and breeching just offshore from the lighthouse (an entry fee of $5 is required to enter the lighthouse). Visitors should also keep their eyes peeled for Hawaiian monk seals and native birds.
As well as whale watching, Hawai‘i offers marine lovers an array of unique experiences and animal encounters, including the chance to see Hawaiian spinner dolphins, green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals and swim with manta ray. Furthermore, visitors can snorkel with the world’s most exotic fish and enjoy the abundance of marine life.
The Official Hawaiian Islands Tourism Board