Making the Most of Your Maui Whale Watching Experience

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Here are my tips to make your Maui Whale Watching vacation epic.

Since I was a little girl my dream has been to see Humpback Whales. As long as I can remember they fascinated me. In December 2006 I came to Maui in search of the whales and did not see any. Hoping for a different experience I booked a week in Maui in February of 2016 intent on seeing these majestic creatures.

From December to April the Humpbacks congregate in Maui to mate and birth their young. You can find them as single males, competition pods, or mothers and calves. This means there are a lot of whale songs to be heard, cute little baby whales splashing near the surface, and action with the male whales competing for a female. Essentially it makes the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Preserve off Maui a great place to see them in the winter months.

 

Time of Year: Whales are expected from December to April, but that is no guarantee they will be there those months. I advise booking smack in the middle of the season (Valentines Day is a good rule of thumb for the middle of the season). This ensures if the whales come late or leave early you will still see them.

A whale we saw breech from the 11 AM Pacific Whale Foundation tour

A whale we saw breech from the 11 AM Pacific Whale Foundation tour near Ma’alaea

Location: The roads in Maui are shaped like an infinity sign. Two mountains sit on opposite sides of the islands with a loop road around each. Those loop roads meet in the center of Maui near where the Airport is located. The southwestern portion of the island is where the whales congregate and where most of the tours depart. I would advise booking your accommodation somewhere between the route from Lahaina to Wailea. It takes maybe an hour to get between the two and there are quite a few locations in between. Also, in those areas you can see whales breeching off the coast very easily with the naked eye.

A fishing boat gets a visit by a whale during my Ultimate Whale Watching Tour

A fishing boat gets a visit by a whale during my Ultimate Whale Watching Tour near Lahaina

Transportation: If you are here to see the whales I advise renting a car. The buses do not run early enough to get you to your morning whale watching tours on time and even though Lahaina is a prime spot for whale watching some tours leave from near Kihea or Ma’alaea. Hitch hiking seems to be prevalent in Maui, but that is risky as it is no guarantee you will make it to your location on time.

A male humpback that passed under our kayaks during a Maui Kayak Adventure Tour out of Makena

A male humpback that passed under our kayaks during a Maui Kayak Adventure Tour out of Makena

Kayaking: Only about 71% of my kayaking tours worked cancelled (5 out of 7) for the week I had booked. Kayaking is the best way to get up close and personal with the whales. However, it is incredibly weather dependent. Wind and swell will cancel your tours. It is also something that sells out and has limited availability, so if you don’t book ahead because you want to gauge the weather you may not be able to get on a tour. I would advise booking more days than you expect to go in anticipation some will be cancelled. Check the cancellation policies as many companies allow you to cancel as late as 24 hours ahead of time. Also, if you bring your GoPro you may even be able to get some underwater pictures of the whales.

A whale pokes his nose out of the water near a cocktail sunset cruise during the Ultimate Whale Watch tour out of Lahaina

A whale pokes his nose out of the water near a cocktail sunset cruise during the Ultimate Whale Watch tour out of Lahaina

Whale Watching: When my kayaking tours were cancelled I immediately called around and booked traditional whale watching tours. Calling just a few days ahead availability was limited but not unavailable. I did one tour on a big group boat (Pacific Whale Foundation) and another on a smaller zodiac type vessel (Ultimate Whale Watch). On both tours we saw whales. The large boat was great because it was two stories so it increased visibility despite being a very full vessel. In the boats you will get to see more whales than the kayak because they can move around the water faster.

Laws: In Maui you can only get within 100 yards of the whales. This means regardless of what tour you choose they must stop moving towards the whale if they are within 100 yards. If you decide you must swim with the whales the fine is $10,000. Keeping that in mind it helps you understand what the limitations are on the tours you book. There are no options for swimming or touching the whales in Maui, they don’t exist no matter how many times you put it in your browser’s search engine. You can find more information on this with the NOAA.

 

Those are my tips for whale encounters in Maui. Do you have some advice from your experience? I’d love to hear more in the comments below. To see details about the tours I booked and activities I did in Maui please check out my Maui Destination Guide.