Humpback whale breaching the water

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The Best Guide To Maui Whale Watching

Whale watching in Maui is one of those bucket list experiences that is awe-inspiring and phenomenal to see! Imagine 1,000s of whales hanging out in one spot? Use this Maui whale watching guide to learn everything you need to know about whale watching in Hawaii.

Get ready to be amazed at the sheer size of these gigantic and magnificent whales as they breach the water, play, and sing you an alluring song.

Whales in Maui are mesmerizing to watch as if they are putting on a show just for you to enjoy!

It is a beautiful sight to see a whales tail while Maui whale watching
It is a beautiful sight to see a whale’s tail!

Whales migrating back to the welcoming waters of Maui is a homecoming Hawaiians have looked forward to each year.

Hawaiians have always admired and held whales in high esteem as they are perceived as family guardians or aumakaua.

Where Is Maui?

Maui is one of the eight islands that make up the Hawaiian Islands or commonly referred to as Hawaii.

The islands of Hawaii are located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,400-miles off the west coast of California and one of the 50 states of the USA.

From many hotels you can look out and see the whales in the distance
From many hotels, you can look out and see the whales in the distance

Although there are eight islands, only 6 receive visitors to their fragrant islands. Maui is one of the four largest islands in Hawaii to visit along with Oahu, the Big Island (Hawaii), and Kauai. As far as visitors go, Maui is the second most visited island after Oahu.

How To Get To Maui

So, unless you are an insanely good swimmer or have your own yacht, you will be flying to the Hawaiian Islands!

Whether you are flying from within the United States or another country, you will likely have a layover on or near the west coast of the United States.

View of the mountains on Maui from the ocean
Maui is an island that you want to have a car to roam around

From Los Angeles or San Francisco, the flight time to Hawaii is about 5.5 to 6 hours direct. For years you could only fly into Honolulu, Oahu and then take a smaller plane to the other islands.

You still might have to but nowadays more than likely you can get a flight straight to the island of your choice.

When booking your flight, purchase your ticket to Kahului Airport (OGG) which is the main airport on the island of Maui.

Unless you only want to hang out at your resort the entire trip, I highly recommend renting a car so that you can see the different areas of this diverse island!

Where To Stay In Maui

Every section of Maui is gorgeous and offers up the most beautiful beaches for you to choose from. Having said that there are a few areas that offer the best combination of excellent hotels, location, beaches, and things to do.

Whether you stay near Wailea or Kaanapali, you will have excellent beaches!
Whether you stay near Wailea or Kaanapali, you will have excellent beaches!

The best areas that I recommend staying in are Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina, and Kaanapali. I have stayed at each of these locations many times and have enjoyed them all. Staying in Kihei is the most economical and has mostly condos and Airbnb options.

Book A Whale Watching Tour!

The Pacific Whale Foundation offers a variety of whale watching tours and guarentees that if you don’t see whales, you can go again for free!

Plus what I really enjoyed about taking a tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation is that they have the best reputation for education, ecotourism, and a pledge to protect and preserve the ocean.

Note: It is currently not whale watching season but I will update with whale watching tours when available. Until then, explore the top tours to take on Maui!

Maui Eco-Friendly Molokini & Turtle Town Tour – Take a boat ride out to the best snorkeling spots on the island plus lunch included!

Lahaina Turtle Town Afternoon Snorkel Excursion – Enjoy an afternoon snorkel excursion at Lahaina’s Turtle Town!

Maui Deluxe Sail Sunset Tour – Sail on a deluxe catamaran and take in the stunning sunset along the coast from Lahaina!

Maui Haleakala National Park Sunrise Tour – Take an early morning tour up to the summit of Haleakala National Park and watch the sunrise with breakfast after. A bucket list experience!

Maui Whale Watching Guide

Whale Watching In Hawaii

Where is the best place to go whale watching in Hawaii? If you didn’t already guess, Maui has the greatest volume of whales that migrate past it. The whale activity really is a spectacular phenomenon to witness as they are in abundance off the shores of Maui.

Three whales swimming together showing how Maui is the best island for whale watching in Hawaii
Maui is the best island for whale watching in Hawaii

If you plan to be traveling to the other islands, you can definitely see them off of Oahu and the Big Island but the highest concentration of whales will pass through the Auau Channel between the islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Maui.

Hands down, if you want the best whale watching in Hawaii experience then Maui is the place to be! Maui might even be one of the best destinations in the world to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals…

Types Of Whales In Maui

I bet you are wondering at this point what types of whales can be seen in Maui, right? The main whales that you will see off the coast of Maui in the Auau Channel are humpback whales or kohola. It is astonishing at the volume of whales in Maui you can see!

Two humpback whales playing
Humpback whales are the primary whale you will see in abundance

It is estimated that about 12,000 to 14,000 humpback whales migrate to this channel between Maui and Lanai to breed, calve, and play in the tropical waters of Hawaii.

Adult male humpback whales can get up to 52 feet and weigh up to 45+ tons!

Water flowing off of a whale tail
Around 14,000 whales will migrate to Maui each year!

These whales are enormous and most likely bigger than the boat you are in. It is mesmerizing to watch them swim and frolic even with their massive size and should be on every person’s bucket list!

For their protection, Hawaii has designated their islands a Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Note: You will see plenty of dolphins and possibly you might catch a glimpse of pilot whales and sperm whales.

Maui Whale Season

The official Maui whale season is from December through April but if you want to catch the peak season then January, February, and March are the best.

Can you imagine seeing and hearing 1,000s of whales migrating before your eyes?

About 2/3 of the North Pacific humpback whale population leave from Alaska and journey south to the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands. The long swim takes about 6-8 weeks to reach the Hawaiian Islands.

They are specifically located in the highest numbers in the Auau Channel off Maui’s coast to mate, give birth, and nurse their young.

A whale tail sticking up as if waving
A whale tail sticking up as if waving!

The whales come to Maui for its warm waters which make for a nice environment for having baby whales or calves. Some other key reasons they like coming to the Auau Channel each year is for the incredible ocean visibility and no natural predators.

In other words, it is a huge whale nursery that has it all for birthing and raising their young. If you are lucky you might begin to spot the first whales arriving as early as the beginning of October.

January through March is the best time for Maui whale watching!
January through March is the best time for Maui whale watching!

Surprisingly, all the adult whales forgo eating during the months they are in Maui as they have been feeding in excess in Alaska before the trek south. The main reason for this is that there is no food for them in these waters.

The baby calves feed only on the mother’s milk drinking so much that they can gain up to 10 pounds per hour… That is one big baby!

Two whales swimming in parallel
Make a point to listen the whale song above or under the water!

Tip: Whether you are on the shore, on a boat or in the ocean, listen to the whales. I don’t quite understand how, but each year the “song” changes. How cool is that?

Whale Behavior

Maui whale watching is an exciting activity as the whales appear to display numerous behaviors that will leave you in awe!

From a boat or a kayak, you can watch the humpback whales perform what seems like acrobatics breaching the water and slamming their fins. They look quite happy and as if they are having a party with some of these fintastic moves!

It is quite astonishing that anything weighing up to 50 tons can launch its body, clear the water and land in a very graceful manner. There are a few whale behaviors you will quickly notice and make you wonder why on earth are they doing that…


One of the most common behaviors that you can see from a distance is whales blowing air out of their blowhole. The whales are blowing out air and water so that they can take a breath when they surface. Whales must come to the surface about every 7-15 minutes to breathe as they are mammals!

It is pretty easy to spot a whale blowing air
It is pretty easy to spot a whale blowing air
A pair of whales blowing in unison
A pair of whales blowing in unison


Witnessing a humpback whale breach the water or thrust most if not their entire body out of the water and making a big splash landing is magical. It appears that this is a form of communication between each other, may attract other whales or even warn off the males. Breaching may help remove unwanted parasites or barnacles off of the whale too.

It's incredible how they can lift their bodies out of the water!
It’s incredible how they can lift their bodies out of the water!

Tail Slapping

Tail slapping is another popular movement you will see among the whales. They might be slapping their side fins or in a more grandeur way slapping their tail. It is thought that they slap the water to communicate or scare off other animals.

Waiting to see a whale slap the water with its fin
Waiting to see a whale slap the water with its fin
For such a large animal, they are so graceful to watch...
For such a large animal, they are so graceful to watch…
Their fins make quite the splash!
Their fins make quite the splash!


Spy-hopping is when the whale’s head comes up vertical out of the water and appears to be spying on you! Rather just checking out what is happening above the water before going back under. From a distance, most of these behaviors appear playful and an entertaining way to communicate.

A whale peaking its head up or spy-hopping
A whale peaking its head up or spy-hopping

Note: As tempting as it might be to get close to these captivating giants, you must stay 100 yards away from them. Of course, they might come up to you but respect their space especially as they will likely have the young calves (babies) with them.

What To Expect On A Whale Watching Tour In Maui

There are several ways you can go whale watching in Maui with various types of boats. The main difference is the size of the boat that will determine the number of people on board. And if they can provide educational information on the humpback whales.

You need to keep a 100 yard distance from the whales
You need to keep a 100-yard distance from the whales

A larger boat will have more stability, restrooms, make moving around easier, and less likely to get seasick. The smaller boats will have a bumpier ride, no options to move around but are quicker to maneuver if there is a whale sighting.

This playful whale is showing off its tail!
This playful whale is showing off its tail!

I chose the Pacific Whale Foundation whale watching excursion as they have the best reputation for education, ecotourism, and a pledge to protect and preserve the ocean.

A whale swimming close to a boat
When the whales come close to the boats you can see their enormous size!

The Pacific Whale Foundation offers a variety of whale watching tours with the two most popular listed below.

Whalewatch Lahaina| Ma’alaea – choose from either a morning or afternoon tour that lasts about 2 hours and is the most popular choice. It is on a larger boat that has both inside and outside with large decks for viewing the whales. The tour is led by Marine Naturalists which is a plus.

Note: The Pacific Whale Foundation guarantees whale sightings or you can go again free. Can’t beat that offer! There is a snack and beverage bar including alcohol that can be purchased on board.

Whalewatch Sail Lahaina – If you prefer sailing then the morning sail from Lahaina takes off on a luxury catamaran that holds up to 49 people. Also led by a Marine Naturalist in search of whales. There is also a snack and beverage bar available for purchases.

Below are a few other companies that I recommend based on going on their snorkel or sunset tours. I give them a thumbs up!

Pride of Maui

Trilogy Sailing

Maui is a bucket list destination for whale watching!
Maui is a bucket list destination for whale watching!

Tips For Whale Watching In Maui

  • Have a good camera, with a great zoom and wide-angle lens.
  • Bring a small set of binoculars to get a closeup of these giants!
  • Dress in layers as although it might be a hot day, it can get windy out on a boat.
  • Pack a hat, sunglasses, reef-safe sunscreen, and a collapsible water bottle that fits in your bag.
  • Keep all your belongings safe and dry in a dry bag!
  • If you know that you get seasick easily, take a non-drowsy Dramamine before or for natural remedies wear a relief wrist band, and have ginger chews handy.
  • Focusing on the horizon or something stationary onshore will help avoid nausea.
  • If you happen to be swimming in the water, boating or kayaking, keep a distance of 100 yards from the whales.
  • Always look in all directions as you never know where a whale will pop up. Remember to look behind you too.
  • If you are curious about whale behavior, ask the naturalist on the boat!
  • If you see a whale, alert others by using the boat as a clock, The front is 12:00 and the back is 6:00. For example, “a whale at 2:00”!

Scuba Diving With Whales

Now that you have seen the whales from the surface of a boat or kayak, seeing one in the water is a remarkable experience. And you don’t even need to see them as you can hear and feel the vibrations in your body signaling they are close!

The divemaster let us know not to be surprised or scared to see a humpback whale while diving as there are so many during peak whale season. But what I didn’t expect was to hear the whale’s song with such a loud intensity.

The closer the whales are the more intense the vibrations...
The closer the whales are the more intense the vibrations…

I felt I was the luckiest observer to listen in on the most beautiful music to my ears. Within seconds I felt the most bizarre vibration in my chest that if I hadn’t been warned this would happen, I would’ve panicked that something was wrong!

The best I can describe it is that you can truly feel the song the whales are singing to each other with an intensity as it vibrates through the body.

It is a magical thing to experience and left me in absolute amazement…

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will see or hear the whales but if you go in peak season you have an excellent chance.

The dive company that I went out with is Lahaina Divers and I can’t recommend them enough!

Tip: Are you a new diver or haven’t dived in awhile? Brush up on some basics with my post 21 Best Scuba Diving Tips For Beginners!

Note: This wasn’t even a dive specifically for the whales. The whales were just a bonus on an already awesome dive.

Weather In Maui

You can visit the Hawaiian Islands at any time of the year and have great weather. There is not a huge temperature change between seasons and the only difference might be the amount of rain.

The whale season in Maui is from December through the end of April with the high temperatures ranging from 70 F to 73 F and the lows between 55 F and 60 F. The temperatures will feel a little warmer due to the humidity so keep that in mind too.

Visiting Maui in the winter months is a great escape from the cold!
Visiting Maui in the winter months is a great escape from the cold!

Although there really isn’t a rainy season, Maui is in the tropics and it isn’t unusual for it to rain a little bit each day. If anything, it is cooling and refreshing not lasting too long, and seems to be more common in the afternoons. If I had to pick a season with more rain it would likely be the fall months.

So, if you are going for Maui whale season you are going at a great time. And most likely incredible weather compared to where you live. It is the perfect escape from a cold and snowy winter!

Tip: Because the winter months are a little more crowded, book your hotel in advance.

Enjoy the spectacular experience of Maui whale watching!

Got Travel Insurance?

Don’t leave home without travel insurance as you never know what might happen on a trip! It is always when you least expect it that something can go wrong like getting sick, in an accident or cancellation of some sort. Get a no-obligation quote from two trusted travel insurance companies for peace of mind on your next trip!

World Nomads Travel Insurance

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  1. OMG you got soooo lucky with the humpbacks! I am soooo impressed with your photos! We went whale watching just off Africa once, but even though we saw whales, I neeeever managed to take good pictures! Maui looks soooo fun! 😀

    1. It was incredible to see so many whales Josy! I felt like I was going to have a whiplash seeing whales all around which made it pretty cool. If you make it to Maui one day, definitely look into whale watching! Whale watching in Africa sounds like it would be amazing too! 🙂

  2. I absolutely lovedddd my time in Oahu, and Maui is one of the destinations next on my “want to visit” list! I heard it’s absolutely beautiful! It looks that way from your pictures haha. I think whale watching in Maui would be incredible, but also I’m low-key scared of whales at the same time sooo….hahah

    1. Ah you will love Maui for sure if you liked Oahu. Oahu is the busiest and most touristy of the islands so you get the more laid back island vibe on Maui. Plus the vast numbers of whales make it a prime destination. I won’t say they are harmless as they are a wild animal but pretty mellow and a happy bunch. It is a law to stay at least 100 yards away so you don’t have to worry unless they come up to you! 🙂

  3. What a beautiful experience! I went whale watching in Iceland a few years ago and saw a couple of minke whales. They’re such majestic animals! I’d love to experience whale watching in Maui…I bet it’s a bit warmer than Iceland! Thanks for the great guide!

    1. Thanks Hannah! Yes such an incredible experience to see so many whales in one place and I’m pretty sure it is a lot warmer than Iceland. Lol. I’ve never seen a minke whale so that is something I look forward to one day! 🙂

  4. Hawaii is on my bucket list since long and it would be great to spot whale here. This island looks very exotic and good to know Maui is perfect for whale watching and looks like a paradise for nature lovers.

    1. The islands of Hawaii are one of my favorite travel destinations so I can’t recommend enough visiting one day as it is truly paradise! Yes, so many activities if you love nature like hiking, beaches, snorkeling, and diving to name a few. Seeing whales in the winter months is a bonus to see on Maui! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂 Maui is such a great travel destination and even more so during whale season and glad you find the guide helpful!

    1. I agree, in most places seeing a whale is tough and not usually very fun or eventful. Maui is one of the only places in the world where there are thousands in one spot and they are very playful and animated. I’d be pretty happy playing in Maui’s waters too! Lol. If you get the chance to visit Maui in the winter, I think you might be super pleased. 🙂

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