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Whale Watching on Maui

If you’re visiting Maui any time in winter, there’s a decent chance you could spot a whale before even reaching the island.

Because the channels surrounding Maui house so many Humpback whales, it isn’t uncommon to spot a whale from out your airplane window. If you don’t end up seeing a misty spout before even touching down, rest assured that the whale watching in Maui is arguably the best in Hawaii, and the question isn’t if you’ll see whales—but how many different times?

The peak season for whale watching on Maui is January, February, and March, though whale season in Maui officially runs from December 15-May 15. Early in the season, the first sightings are usually of males who have made the swim from Alaska, awaiting the females who usually show up between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the next few months, the sea is alive with thunderous splashes, spouts, pec slaps, and breaches, as the 50-ton mammals will mate, give birth, and frolic here in these waters.
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To spot whales from shore, head to Papawai Overlook on the twisting road to Lahaina, where the view stretches out from Ma‘alaea Bay to the Au‘au Channel towards Lāna‘i. Honolua Bay is another good spot to look for breaches and spouts, which are best seen from the bumpy dirt road that runs atop the bluff.

To truly go whale watching on Maui, however, and experience the wintertime magic, you need to book a whale watching tour to see the Humpbacks up close. Boats, by law, cannot approach a Humpback whale any closer than 100 yards, but oftentimes the curious whales will swim up and “mug” the boat. Watch as they rhythmically slap their fluke, or erupt in a sudden breach—using their massive peduncle muscle to thrust their body in the air. When it happens without warning, time literally seems to stop and no one can utter a word, as such an epic display of force can turn an entire crowd silent.

To book a whale watching tour in Maui, look for boats that leave from Lahaina, Ma‘alaea, or Kā‘anapali Beach. The catamarans in Kā‘anapali are convenient if you’re staying in the resort, but because they load directly from the sand require agility and mobility. Larger, more stable, diesel boats depart from Lahaina Harbor, and morning hours are usually best before the tradewinds pick up. In Ma‘alaea, oftentimes the wind is howling by early afternoon, which is when most of the whale watching tours depart from Ma‘alaea Harbor.

A little insider secret, however, is that any morning snorkeling charter will also stop to watch whales, so travelers pressed for time on the island can book a charter to Molokini and still get a morning whale watch. Granted, the amount of time you’ll spend with the whales will be less than on a whale watch, since whale watching tours are custom geared towards following and learning about whales.

Finally, since whale watching in Maui is based around nature, no two whale watching trips or excursions will ever be the same. If you have a whale watch that’s just mediocre, and don’t experience much action, the best thing to do is just try again—tomorrow’s a brand new day.

whale watching on Maui

Whale watching on Maui. Photo: Member Kathy M.

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Whale Watching