The waters surrounding Maui are the stage for some of the best whale watching in the world. Each winter (December through May), thousands of kohola (humpback whales) travel to Hawaii from colder waters to breed, calve and nurse their young. The whales are drawn to the area’s shallow waters, especially the Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai, making Maui an ideal jumping-off spot for your whale-watching voyage.
Treat yourself to scenic ocean views as expert guides take you to the best spots to observe whales playfully surfacing, tail slapping or blowing spouts in the air. Regulations prohibit boats from approaching within 100 yards of a whale, and you should never swim with or touch whales or any other marine mammals. Lahaina Harbor is home to a wide range of whale watching tours. From charter boats to passenger rafts, a stroll past the kiosks lining Lahaina Harbor reveals a variety of options during the peak of whale watching season, between January and early April. Tours are roughly 2–4 hours long.
But you don’t have to go on a whale watching tour to spot whales. In fact, there are plenty of areas on Maui where humpbacks can frequently be seen from the shore during whale season. The scenic McGregor Point lookout west of Maalaea and the beaches of Kaanapali, Kihei and Wailea are also great spots to see whales.
Maui's Whaling History
From 1825 to 1860, Lahaina was the center of whaling in Hawaii. This port town was once the royal capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom before it was moved to Honolulu in 1845. During this time, Lahaina was known as the Pacific’s most significant whaling port. At its peak, whalers were hunting thousands of whales each year—to the point of near extinction. Today, conservation has helped to increase the overall whale population in Hawaii.
You can still explore Lahaina’s whaling past today. Neighboring the harbor, the Pioneer Inn—which was built in 1901—recalls the ambiance of the whaling days. Echoes of the past can be found throughout this historic town, from the modest Lahaina Lighthouse (the oldest lighthouse in the Pacific) to Hale Paahao, the Old Lahaina Prison, where rowdy sailors were rounded up for the night in the 1850s. Off of Kaanapali Beach, the Whale Center of Hawaii is home to a variety of exhibits and information and is free to the public.