If watching whales frolicking in the water is on your to-do list, visiting Maui will provide you with the perfect opportunity. Why? Because thousands of North Pacific Humpback whales make the incredible journey from Alaska to the waters surrounding Maui every year.
Planning your visit to coincide with the whale season enables you to experience the incredible sight of these whales in the water, so when is the best time for whale watching in Maui?
In short, the best time for whale watching in Maui is between January and March, with February being the optimal month. Officially whale season is between 15th December and 15th May.
The best time of day depends on preference as whales’ do not rest at specific times but are active at intervals throughout the day.
Maui is one of Hawaii’s best places to get spectacular views of whales. With that being said, planning a trip to Maui should be on your bucket list if you wish to see some North Pacific Humpback whales out in their natural habitat.
Before heading out, you will need to ensure that you plan your trip according to the whales’ calendar so that you can ensure you will be there to experience the best possible sightings. Let’s dive into this just a bit more!
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When Is The Best Time To Whale Watch In Maui?
The North Pacific Humpback whales visit Maui annually during their winter migration. They come to the warmer waters surrounding this beautiful island to give birth to their young and to breed. A protected water area between Molokai, Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, and the Aua Channel provides the perfect nursery and breeding grounds for these majestic creatures.
Peak numbers are usually reached during January and stretch into March. So the best time to plan a visit to Maui’s waters to get some prime whale watching is from January to March.
While whales are prevalent during all these months, the best month for whale watching is in February. By this time, thousands of whales will be present in the waters, and you will be able to see them playing and breeching from the shoreline.
February is also the month when Maui celebrates its amazing Maui Whale Festival, where you will get the chance to learn all about the visiting wonders through exhibitions, various activities, and movies.
March is also an excellent month for whale watching as it is more common to see new calves breaching the water with their mothers during this month. By this stage, many calves will be old enough to attempt breaching and playfully splash about near the water’s surface. These breaches and splashes might be smaller, but they do have an extra level of ‘cuteness,’ which adds to the appeal.
Can’t make it during these prime months? Not a problem. Officially, whale season starts on 15th December, and if you plan to visit around this time, you are guaranteed to see some whales in the water, even though their numbers will be fewer.
The first whales to migrate into Maui waters are juvenile male Humpbacks who are typically curious. This curiosity often results in them coming closer to the boats as their interest draws them in.
By the beginning of April into May, the numbers of whales in the area start to diminish as they head out and start traveling back to Alaska to feed. Even though you will still see them swimming around, it won’t be in the same numbers or provide the same experience as the earlier months.
What Is The Best Time Of Day For Whale Watching In Maui?
So you have managed to get to Maui to experience the whales firsthand. The only question is, what time of day should you go whale watching, morning, evening, or midday?
Whales do not rest at specific times during the day. Instead, they go through intervals of rest and activity. Typically these intervals are between 30 and 45 minutes apart, but you can never be sure when they will occur.
With that said, anytime during the day is really the best time to see whale activity! But, if you’re looking for the best lighting for your photos, early morning or sunset is considered prime time.
While the 11 am to 3 pm hours yield the best overhead light, this can actually cause your photos to come out a lot harsher.
Now let’s touch on the weather a bit. The weather in Maui is rather typical. The mornings are often calm and tranquil, whereas the afternoons can be somewhat choppy and windy. Therefore, the best time for whale watching comes down to personal preference and what kind of water experience you seek.
- If you prefer a calmer water experience (or maybe you’re even prone to motion sickness), head out early in the morning. The early morning and late evening lighting, especially sunrise and sunset, will provide the perfect backdrop for exceptional pictures.
- If you wish for the best overhead lighting conditions, it would be best for you to head out onto the beautiful waters between 11 am and 3 pm.
Some studies have shown that whales become more active in windy conditions, with some researchers suggesting that whales like the feel of the wind on their backs as it might feel like a kind of ‘tickle’ for them. Many tour guides corroborate this theory noting that they often see repeated surface activity and breaches when the water is choppy.
Now before you go out in search of the day with the choppiest waters, do note that it may be slightly more difficult spotting whales when the sea is full of whitecaps (as this makes it difficult to see the whales’ spouts).
We personally enjoy taking whale tours during sunrise or aiming for the first morning tour they offer. This is for a few reasons! The light is great for photography, the boats are usually less crowded, and the water is usually much calmer (I sometimes get seasick on really choppy waters when the tradewinds are raging).
Another plus? It’s usually much cooler in the morning, meaning you won’t be sitting under hot, direct sunlight as you would in the afternoon!
Where Is The Best Place On Maui For Whale Watching?
The best place to see whales is the Maui Nui Basin. This is considered the protected area between the islands of Maui, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe. This is a prime whale-watching area as whales are very interested in the shallow waters in this area.
Most whale watching tours will leave from Lahaina, Ma’alaea, or Wailea and head towards the Maui Nui area.
Booking A Whale Watching Tour In Maui: When To Book
Several notable companies offer whale-watching tours in Maui, so there is no need to book ahead for your tour unless you want to go with a tour company you had in mind specifically.
You might want to remember that although most of these companies guarantee that you will see whales on your tour, this might not be true. If you happen to get unlucky and there are no whales visible on your trip, most tour companies will not offer you a refund. Instead, they will provide you with another trip free of charge for you to enjoy the Maui waters and, hopefully, this time, manage to spot some whales.
To ensure you don’t miss out on getting your whale sightings, we suggest you schedule your whale-watching trip at the beginning of your stay in Maui rather than at the end. If you are unfortunate enough not to spot any whales on your tour, an offer for another trip won’t do you much good if it’s your last day in Maui.
Having a few days available after your initial whale-watching tour would be good as a buffer in case you don’t see any whales the first go-’round!
Best Whale Watching Tours In Maui
With so many tour companies offering a similar experience, which one do you actually go with?
Well, I want you to ask yourself a few questions:
- Where is your hotel based? If you’re looking for convenience, you’ll want to stick with a whale tour that has a jumping-off point that’s closer to your accommodation.
- Are you looking for just an intimate whale watching adventure and nothing else in between? Keep it simple with this bestselling tour by Makai Adventures (they have a 5-star perfect rating as a tour company): Small Group Whale Watching Adventure From Lahaina
- Feeling more adventurous and want to pair your adventure with snorkeling within the same boat trip? If that sounds like you, go with this tour: Ultimate 4 Hour Whale Watch & Snorkel from Lahaina Harbor
- Interested in an open bar with unlimited drinks during your whale-watching tour? Go with this one by Sea Maui (they also have a 5-star perfect rating as a tour company): Whale Watching Cruise with Open Bar from Ka’anapali Beach
- Want the chance to see as many whales as possible? This tour’s best for that: Eye-Level Whale Watching 2 Hour Eco-Raft Tour from Lahaina
- Traveling in a small raft creates an intimate whale-watching experience not found on larger boats. Plus, rafts can get you around much quicker, letting you spend more time whale-watching and less time in transit.
The best time for whale watching in Maui is between January and March, with the best month being February. However, that doesn’t mean you have a 2-month window to see whales–you will still see many whales if you visit between 15th December and 15th May.
And ultimately, the best time of the day for whale watching comes down to personal preference and whether you wish for a calm and tranquil boat ride or a windy and choppy ride. We’re biased because we’ve always done morning tours and loved these experiences so much!
If you’re stuck debating about what time to take your tour, go with the morning option.
Looking for more Hawaii travel tips? You may also like:
Maui Packing List: 59 Essential Things To Bring With You
38 Essential Oahu Travel Tips For First Timers: What You Need To Know
7 Best Hotels In Oahu With NO Resort Fees
Polynesian Cultural Center: Worth The Money? My Honest Review
123 Bucket List Things To Do In Oahu, Hawaii
The Perfect Kauai 7-Day Itinerary For An Unforgettable Hawaiian Vacation
35 Things To Do on The Big Island Hawaii For The Perfect Weekend
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