There Be Whales!

Few things inspire as much awe as spotting a whale breach the surface of the ocean or watching a humpback as it slaps its fins against the water. There are many places where you can view these enormous cetaceans, but Maui offers a special opportunity for adventurers.

November through May, North Pacific Humpback Whales make their annual migration from Alaska to Hawaii. The majority of whales are in the Maui area from January to March with February being peak season.  The waters between Maui, Lanai, and Kahoolawe provide a perfect environment for humpbacks to give birth and prepare their calves for the journey to Alaska.

Earlier this year my wife and I traveled to Maui for some much needed R&R, but the planning of this year’s vacation centered around whale watching. All of our previous visits to Maui were outside the season when commercial companies offer whale watching tours. Not that these were bad times to visit (there are no bad times to visit Maui), but this year we really wanted to experience whales.

We were not disappointed! We went on two whale watching tours, both with the Pacific Whale Foundation; one tour was out of Lahaina and the other departed from Ma’alaea. The reason for the two different locations was because we moved locations during our stay. We spent the first half of the vacation in Kaanapali and the rest in Wailea. Each area has its advantages, though after a half-dozen visits to Maui, Wailea is our preferred destination.

After some research we decided to get up early and go on the sunrise tours. Besides being less expensive, it was less crowded and you aren’t suffering under the strong midday sun.


On both cruises, as soon as the sunlight hit the water the whales became active, very active. Over and over I quoted Scotty from Star Trek IV: “There be whales here!” We saw mothers and their calves, flukes flying, whales breaching, and fins flapping. At one point on each tour, the ships engines were turned off and a hydrophone lowered into the water so we could hear whale song. Our only disappointment was the tour went by too quickly.

Whale 3

Whale 1

Whale 2

You don’t have to go out on a boat to watch whales. One evening, while enjoying adult beverages as we lounged in the Infinity Pool at the Wailea Beach Resort, waiting for the sun to set, we were entertained by a large humpback who was engaged in a vigorous round of fin slapping not more than 200 yards off shore. I’m still not sure how the hotel arranged it.

If walking on beautiful sand beaches and venturing out on the water to witness these incredible creatures was the only thing Maui had to offer, it would have been a worthwhile trip. There is of course far more to do and see on the Valley Isle.

A must see stop on the north end of the island is Nakalele Blowhole which is well worth the short hike to get to. The blowhole was quite active while we were there.

Two of our favorite pastimes in Maui, besides evening strolls and drinking mai tais, are snorkeling and kayaking. There are a plethora of snorkeling opportunities on Maui and we’ve been to quite a few, but our favorite sites are where there are healthy populations of sea turtles. The best of both worlds (kayaking and snorkeling) is to kayak out to an area where turtles reside and then don our masks and enter the water. This year we visited ‘Turtle Town’ near Makena.

The morning we launched into the surf was overcast and a bit chilly, but the conditions didn’t matter to the turtles.


There is something quite serene about floating alongside the turtles. You don’t have to swim after them, in fact you shouldn’t; but if you are still, oft times they will come up to you. An added bonus of being here during the humpback migration was hearing whale song as we snorkeled.   When we dove a foot or two below the surface we would hear the sounds of the humpbacks, just like we heard on the whale watching tours – no hydrophones required!


If you’re looking for even more adventure, consider an overnight stay in Haleakala National Park. My all-time favorite three-day backpack was a cabin-to-cabin trip in the Haleakala Crater.

Why am I sharing this post at now instead of earlier in the year? Because now is the time to start planning YOUR Maui adventure. Fall is here. Winter and a new year are just around the corner. So save up some money, put a Maui trip on your calendar, submit your vacation request, make reservations, and go. Don’t keep putting it off until ‘someday’. Make ‘someday’ 2018 and experience whale song for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.