There are many experiences you have to add to your “Must-Do Checklist” when visiting Maui — Haleakala at sunrise. Snorkeling at some of the world's top beaches. Drive the Road to Hana and explore one of the dozens of nearby waterfalls.
But Maui can lay claim to being the best place worldwide for a unique, mesmerizing activity — humpback whale watching. These majestic giants, kohola in Hawaiian, migrate thousands of miles to the warm, clear waters of the Hawaiian Islands during the winter for the breeding season, peaking during January, February and March. It’s estimated that the largest global gathering of humpbacks can be found in Hawaii at this time.
In particular, many whales and calves will be seen in the waters that separate Maui from Molokai and Lanai to the west. This area, the ‘Au‘au Channel, is protected from the open Pacific and provides an ideal space where calves can be nurtured. It’s why Maui is the go-to place to see humpbacks.
You can stroll the beach at Kaanapali and watch them from afar. But to get an up-close view of these astonishing creatures, our hosts at Honua Kai Resort & Spa recommend taking a Whale Watching Boat Tour during your vacation. The guides maintain a respectful (and legal) distance from the whales of at least 100 yards, but with sizes on average of 45 feet long and 50 tons, that’s close enough. Some of the behaviors you can expect to see include:
- Blow: Humpbacks breathe through an orifice that sends a plume of seawater and air skyward; calves must do so far more frequently than their parents;
- Head Rise: A humpback rising vertically above the water's surface;
- Tail and Pectoral Slaps: A powerful movement of a humpback's tail flukes and fins onto the water's surface;
- Fluke Up Dive: A graceful arching with the tail flukes rolling underwater;
- Breach: An aerial launch above the water's surface.
Pro-tip: Bring a windbreaker or other light jacket. Between ocean spray and the cooler (if still tropical) temperatures of winter, it’s a good way to stay warm in the wind and also protect your skin from the sun.
And if you haven't yet, make sure to visit our round-up of the world's best beaches. Maui makes the list several times over - come visit and see why.