Guide to Whale Watching in Hawaii

All you need to know about whale watching in Hawaii.

Whales (kohola) are sacred in Hawaiian culture and appear in many legends. Nothing compares to an encounter with one of these majestic mammals. Humpbacks, southern right whales, sperm whales and belugas frequent the pleasant, fertile waters off the Hawaiian Islands.

A guided tour is the best way to whale watch in Hawaii. If you’re lucky, you can see whales from the shore.

Best Time to See Whales in Hawaii

Humpbacks don’t visit Hawaii; they return yearly after summering in Alaska. Read more about whale watching in Alaska to find out about their antics in the Great Land. Humpback whale moms give birth in the waters surrounding the islands, which makes their calves kamaaina (native born). Their return is a special homecoming celebrated in Hawaiian culture.

Sightings occur between October to May, with peak whale watching season in Hawaii from January through March.

Whale-Watching Boat Tours

A whale-watching boat tour is the best way to see whales in Hawaii. Whale-watching tours via boat and zodiac are available through our Hawaii shore excursions.

A whale-watching tour offers close encounters with the animals, though all boats in Hawaii must stay 100 yards away to give the animals some breathing room (and breaching room). Naturalists on board explain whale behavior.

Best Places to See Whales in Hawaii

Picture this: you look up from your beach read. There, in the distance, a spout. Then a 40-ton giant leaps from the water and performs a full-body breach that ends in a spectacular splash. Good thing you happened to look up!

With serendipity and a lot of patience, you might see whales from land in Hawaii, especially during peak whale season from January through March. North Kona, Kohala and the Hilo Coast are the best places to see whales in Hawaii.

Not only can you see whales from the shore of Hawaii, the Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai is one of the best whale-watching places in the world. The warm, shallow waters surrounding the islands are part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Pop into the sanctuary visitor centers on Kauai and Maui to learn more about whales in Hawaii.

Once you choose a location, bring binoculars, and prepare to hang out.

Humpbacks favor glassy, calm waters. Pay close attention if you see a lot of birds in one spot—there may be a bait ball below and whales love to feast on a good bait ball. Scan the horizon for spouts of steam, often the first clue that a humpback is under the surface.

You never know; you might be able to see whales from the deck of your Hawaii cruise. Our perfectly mid-sized cruise ships have wide open decks, so you’ll enjoy extra space if you happen upon marine wildlife.

Whale Watching on The Big Island

Hilo Bay offers prime whale viewing at an easy-to-access location near the cruise port. An hour and a half from Hilo, the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is an excellent place to glimpse the gentle giants.

In Hawaiian, Puukohola means “hill of the whale,” if that tells you anything about your chances. This site is also home to one of the largest restored temples in Hawaii, so there’s something to see besides the whales.

Maui Whale Watching

Papawai Point near McGregor Lighthouse is one of Maui’s most popular destinations for whale watching from the shore. Bring binoculars. Visitors have spotted humpbacks swimming with their calves from this scenic point.

Whale-watching tours in Maui depart from Lahaina.

Oahu Whale Watching

Many Oahu whale-watching tours leave conveniently from Honolulu. If you want to spot whales from Oahu’s beaches, head to the island’s southeastern spots. Makapuu Lighthouse, Hanauma Bay, and Diamond Head are some of the best places to watch for whales in Oahu.

What to Wear Whale Watching in Hawaii

Decide what to wear on your whale-watching tour. Most tours are about two hours, so wear comfortable clothes. Consider the vessel and how breezy it will be on the water. There are Hawaii whale-watching tours by boat and zodiac.

Whale-watching boats typically have two levels with an air-conditioned interior. Zodiacs offer a more thrilling ride as you bounce over the waves, but there isn’t sun protection, and you will get wet.

What to Wear Whale Watching:

  • Sunglasses/sunhat
  • Swimsuit with coverup
  • Moisture-wicking shirt/pants or shorts
  • Slip-on shoes
  • Reef-safe sunscreen
  • Camera/binoculars/waterproof phone case

Whether from a beach or a boat, a whale sighting is unforgettable. Ready to go to the islands? Book a cruise to Hawaii now.