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Best time to travel to Maui, HI

Whale Watching

Up-close look at magnificent humpback whales and their natural habitat

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Maui is a paradise for whale lovers. The second largest Hawaiian island is where you can witness whales in all their glory. After all, more than half of North Pacific humpback whale population choose Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary that covers the Maui Nui basin as their winter play ground. The protected area between Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe, and especially, shallow and warm waters of the Auau Channel, is where thousands of whales breed and give birth to calves.

Maui whale-watching season

Whales start to arrive in Maui in December and leave in late April or early May. Mothers with calves usually migrate the first, followed by juveniles and finally adult whales. The population reaches its peak numbers between January and March, which is optimal to observe these water giants. This is when it's even possible to spot the kohola, as locals call humpback whales, right from the shore in Lahaina, Ka’anapali Beach, and Ma'alaea Bay. February is considered to be the best time for whale watching in Maui. It's also when the annual Maui Whale Festival takes place. You can surely learn a lot about humpbacks during this popular event that features exhibitions, movies, and various activities.

Maui whale-watching tours

Maui offers a variety of ways to encounter whales: from catamarans, Zodiac boats, sailboats, or rafts. It's one of the few places where you can see whales while kayaking, paddling, or snorkeling.


Most whale watch tours in Maui depart from Lahaina Harbor, a former whaling hunt center. Now, you can celebrate these beautiful creatures here and watch them from a safe distance. Zodiac Tours and rafts give an opportunity to see whales up close while whale watching on Maui. One of the most popular operators is Ultimate Whale Watch running small hydrophone boats with an underwater microphone so that you can hear whale songs. And if you don't see any whales on the day of your adventure, you'll get a chance to take another trip without extra cost. Another great option to try is a sailing catamaran. You can opt for a guided tour from Whalewatch Sail on a medium-sized vessel that takes about 60 people. Finally, Maui is where one can enjoy a unique experience: kayaking with whales. With Adventure Tours Hawaii, you can go with an instructor to the channel to see humpback whales up close. After paddling by Makena Beach you can enjoy snorkeling over a coral reef.

Kihei and Ma'alaea Harbor

Kihei and Ma'alaea Harbor on the north-west side of the island is another popular whale-watching destination. Options include a guided kayak tour with safety instruction and snorkeling and an eco-friendly 2-hour tour on a larger boat. Whale sightings are guaranteed or you can go again free. These tours boast a 97% sighting success rate. You can also book a whale watching excursion from other locations throughout the islands. Whales can be spotted in great numbers near Oahu, Big Island and Kauai.

What to wear

If you are going to travel on a Zodiac or a raft, make sure to bring a waterproof windbreaker as well as a waterproof sleeve for your phone and camera to protect your gear. Wear long pants and sneakers to be comfortable on board. And don't forget about binoculars! For protection against the harsh UV light, bring a sunhat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. If you suffer from motion sickness, make sure to take some medicine before the trip.

Humpback whales in Maui

Spending winter in Maui, humpback whales are occupied with such activities, as courtship, competing for mates, mating, calving, and nursing newborn calves. They breach, slap fins and flukes on the surface to communicate. They are also known for their unique songs that are heard for miles. One of the largest whale species on Earth, humpbacks reach 60 feet (18 m) in length and weigh up to 40 tons. Their lungs are the size of a small car. When whales sleep, just one side of their brain resting and one eye remains open so that they remember to breathe.

Practical info

What is the best month to see whales in Maui?

February is regarded as the best time for whale watching in Maui

Where can you see whales in Maui?

Most tours depart from Lahaina and Ma'alea Harbor. Whales aare most abundant in Maui Nui area.

What side of Maui is best for whale watching?

Western side, especially Lahaina and Kaanapali

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Last updated: by Mariana Maglych