Best Whale Watching Tours In Maui, Hawaii – Guide to all the best Whale Watching Tours on Maui.

Maui id the Number one destination in the world for Whale Watching. Every winter thousands of enormous Humpback Whales descend on Maui to breed, give birth and rest in Maui’s stunning warm and protected waters. The best way to see the Whales is via a Whale Watching tour. This is the top activity for tourists during the winter months even out doing Luaus and the Summit of Haleakala. However, with the tours being so popular there hundreds of options out there and not all tours are as good as the others, and while some are equally great they are just different. And no one type of tour suits everybody.

Humpback Whale Watching Maui

Our Guide to the Best Whale Watching tours in Maui guides you through the minefield and helps you to pick out the absolute best tour suited yo your family so you can enjoy your time with the Whales to the maximum extent.

Do we need to do a Whale Watching Tour to See the Whales?

Absolutely not. Whales can be seen from most of the tourist resorts right from the beach or your ocean-facing Lanai. Without a doubt this is the best way to see whales as you relax, sipping your morning coffee or evening Mai Tai watching the Whales play off in the distance. It really lets you know how special this island Paradise is.

On top of this Whale sightings during the peal months are so numerous any activity that involves being out on the water will involve some type of whale encounter. Some of our best trips were not actual Whale Watching trips, we have had amazing encounters from Dive or Snorkel trips, you will even see whales on a dinner cruise. Simply put, in Maui, during Whale season, Whales are EVERYWHERE, All the time and if you are on or near the water, you are going to see Whales.

Baby Humpback Whale
Baby Whale from a Dive Boat

That said, Whale Watching trips are still incredible. You are likely to get really close and see a lot of whales on any dedicated trip. There will be a naturalist on board to narrate and point out the whales and explain a ton about them. These trips are amazing and well worth their ranking as the number one activity in winter.

What about Other Islands?

If you are Island hopping and wondering which Island to do your Whale Watching trip on. Stop. Do it on Maui. The Au’Au Channel holds more Whales during Whale season than the rest of the Hawaiian waters combined. You can book Whale Watching Trips from all the other Major islands but they are not a patch in Maui’s trips. Simply put the only reason to not book your Whale Watching for Maui is if you are not coming to Maui…and you probably won’t be reading this!

When is Whale Watching Season?

Humpback whale Maui

The Season runs from mid-December to April, but the season only really shows when Whale Watching tours run, there are likely to be whales around outside these dates and it is even possible that there will be NO whales within those dates if they depart early as they sometimes do. So, understanding the season is essential to getting the best trip possible. We have written an extensive guide on this here:

When is Whale Watching Season in Maui Hawaii?

Can We Swim With the Whales?

No. None of the Whale Watching tours allow guesting into the water in the presence of whales. This is not allowed by law and would probably be highly dangerous. There are some dive trips where you have the “chance” of whale interactions if they choose, but these are unlikely. 45+ton Whales are best viewed from the safety of the boat with minimum distance rules applied.

Types of Whale Watching Tours

Rafting – Small Rib’s(Ridgid Inflatable Boats) or Zodiac Boats are used on these types of tours. These work well due to their speed and versatility. They get you to the whales fast and being low to the water can mean a very close encounter. The Flipside is they are pretty basic. The ride is rough and billed as adventurous. This can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on your preference. But you will be bounced around, splashed and generally uncomfortable for the entire tour. But the Tour will likely be very comprehensive and get you to a lot of whales and most people if they know what to expect, LOVE these tours.

Sailboat – Most sailing boats are also powered so if the wind is not right the can still get too and from the whales. However, these are true Sailing catamarans and can be powered fully by the sails. This makes for silent and smooth sailing and disturbs the whales far less on approach. This means they are far less likely to be spooked and head for the depths.

Powered Catamaran – The Powered Catamaran is the cruising boat of choice out on Maui’s waters. These are a cross between a Sailing Cat and a regular pleasure boat. The twin-hull makes for effortless sailing and great wave penetration, meaning less propulsion is needed and the boats are quieter and more efficient. However, they lack the charm of a real sailboat, However, they are fully fitted often with galleys and bar for your comfort and pleasure.

Kayak – If you want to really get up close to the Whales then a Kayak is the way to go. By far the best option is a Kayak tour as the whales can be pretty far out and simply heading out into the channel by yourself is not the best idea. Minimum distances must still be maintained but kayaks can get a little closer than a large immovable vessel. If the Whales decided to come and check you out in a Kayak you are in for the experience of a lifetime!

From the Air – A completely different way to see the Whales is from the air. Either by Helicopter or by a chartered Fixed-wing Aircraft you can really appreciate the huge numbers of whales that populate the Channel.

What to Expect and Minimum Distances.

Some people get a little upset that the boats do not always get very close to the Whales. This is partly out of respect for the animals and partly because the Law only permits boats up to 100yards (or 1000ft from any Aircraft, including Drones!) from the Whales. However, upon approaching a pod of whales the boat will kill it’s engines and simply float in the water. Guidelines for the boat captains can be found on NOAA’s website.

These practices mean the whales can go about their business undisturbed by human activity which is vital for the health and wellbeing of the creatures.

However, the rules do not apply to whales and sometimes being intelligent, inquisitive and gentle creatures, they will decide to take a closer look at your tour boat. Once a whale is within 100yards there is nothing the captain can do to prevent this as he must keep the propeller off. So if the Whale approaches the only choice is to sit dead in the water and let the magic happen.

This is not to be expected however and on most occasions, the boats approach at a safe distance and simply observe the whales going about their business. Whales during the peak season can be very active, the males are in full courtship and this can involve all sorts of spectacular behavior from lunging, pec slapping, fluke slapping or full-on breaching. To be perfectly honest when a full-grown male breaches 100yards is plenty close enough!

Most tours will have an onboard naturalist who will share plenty of fascinating info about the Whales and will be an expert in tracking them down. They will also have a hydrophone on board that will be deployed so you can hear the whales sing. The Hawaii Whales are very vocal and will certainly be singing during your trip. Hearing the incredible vocalizations is really magical.

Top Tip – If you are Snorkelling anytime during your stay, remember to Dive under the water at some point and hold still and listen out for the Whales. A hydrophone is pretty cool but actually hearing them underwater is something you will NEVER forget.

Whale Guarantees

Most Whale Watching Tours offer a moneyback or free trip guarantee on most dedicated whale watching tours. If you are doing a tour in peak season forget about this Guarantee. It will not be honored! Why? you WILL see whales. Most Nature tours caveat their trips with sayings like “nature can not be predicted” and “Wildlife does not perform to a schedule”. All that is true enough and there are rarely guarantees on wildlife. But the Au’Au Channel is SO chock full of Whales during peak season you cannot help but see whales!

Should the unthinkable happen we are sure the tours will honor any guarantee they made but the truth is we all want to see whales and Maui makes that a Reality!

Weather Cancellations

The Au’Au Channel is one of the calmest and protected waters in the Hawaiian Island chain. For the most part the trade winds come from the north and the east meaning the island takes the brunt and the north shore gets the largest swells.

Still, from time to time things get choppy in the Au’Au Channel and the “swimming pool” gets torrid. This is no place for tours and no one would have a good time even if the tours run. Even rarer is a large weather system rolling in. These can bring heavy rains and horrible conditions. No one wants to be out on the water in those conditions.

Safety is the number one concern and if the weather is bad the captains will cancel the trips. This is upsetting but it is better than them not canceling. In this instance, you will have two choices, Re schedule or a Refund. The company will always try and get you on another tour but it is not always possible and in that case, you get a refund.

We have heard of companies trying not to give refunds but that have canceled the trip, thereby not honoring their side of the contract so you are entitled to your money back.

Locations

Tours tend to depart from either Lahaina Harbor, Maalaea Harbor or Kihei Boat ramp for the Raft tours. Lahaina Tours head up the West Maui coast which is truly stunning while Maalaea Tours head out into the main Channel still with stunning views of the island and the West Maui Mountains.

We Prefer West Maui tours as you tend to be on the whales faster and the scenery is just slightly more epic than the Maalaea tours, just slightly. but there is very little in it and we tend to advise to book by convenience and pick the tour closest to your resort. So Maalaea if are in South Maui and Lahaina if you are in the West.

The Best Whale Watching Tours in Maui Hawaii

Blue Water Rafting

Blue water rafting
  • Price: $66 – Adult – $57 Child
  • Type: RIB/Zodiac
  • Location: Kihei Boat Ramp
  • Duration: 2.5 Hours
  • Included: Adventure Tour with Whale Watching and Snorkeling, Snacks and Drinks

Rafting is a great way to explore Maui’s wonderful oceans. These tours are a little rough and you can expect to get wet and bashed around quite a bit as the 27ft RIB’s pound along the Ocean Swells. Depending on your tastes that may be right up your street or your own version of hell. If it’s the latter look further down the list for some of the more sedate ocean expeditions.

For those of you who are up for the adventure, Blue Water Rafting offers a fantastic way of getting out and seeing the Whales. We love this trip as it is not solely focused on the Whales and gives you time to explore Molokini and get some awesome snorkeling in.

The Rafting trips, in General, are a great way to get up close to the whales. being low to the water means any encounters are very close and you are likely to be able to smell the whale’s breath and really appreciate the Size of these creatures. The Fast-moving Rib’s mean you can cover far more ground than other types of vessel and this brings far more chance of great whale sightings as the Rafts can hunt out the more active groups.

<<< Book With Tom Barefoot’s tours for our Club Price of $53.70! >>>

Redline Rafting

  • Price: $45
  • Type: RIB/Zodiac
  • Location: Kihei Boat Ramp
  • Duration: 2-Hours
  • Included: Small Groups and more whales

A Very Similar tour to Blue Water Rafting. However, this is focused entirely on whale watching with no snorkeling and does not visit Molokini. So if the Whales are your priority you will get more time hunting them out on the Redline Trip, although Bluwater does do a Whale only trip too.

The Fast Moving rib will get you out to the whales fast and even though the trip is a short 2-hour excursion you will see tons of whales and hopefully some fantastic interactions. The group size is always small so the boat is never crowded and you are guaranteed excellent viewing.

<<< Book With Tom Barefoot’s tours for our Club Price of $42.30! >>>

Hawaii Ocean Rafting

Hawaii ocean Rafting
  • Price: $42 Adult – $33 Child
  • Type: RIB/Zodiac
  • Location: Lahaina
  • Duration: 2-Hours
  • Included: Small Boats and Small Groups with cold drinks included.

Hawaii Ocean Rafting offer really fun tours with small groups up to a maximum of 17 on their small 17ft rafts. Sailing out from Lahaina these tours are perfect for anyone staying in West Maui. The Whale activity off the coast of west Mai can be fantastic the channel is narrow and the whales come right in close to the shore making West Maui the capital for Shoreline viewing. This also means tours out of Lahaina can be barely out of the Harbour before hitting whales.

While the Bigger raft tours from Kihei have a long steam until they hit the whales the Lahaina tours can be in them immediately. This then leaves you maximum time to cruise up the incredible west Maui Coastline taking in the Whales and astounding West Maui Mountains.

<<< Book With Tom Barefoot’s tours for our Club Price of $35.70! >>>

Pacific Whale Foundation

Pacific Whale Foundation

The Big Name on Maui for whale watching tours is the Pacific Whale Foundation. As such we simply couldn’t not talk about them. They have a massive fleet and offer a wide range of tours from both Maalaea and Lahaina, on Sailing Cats and Powered Cats.

Their fleet is state of the art, their Naturalists fantastic and their offering is one of the best. Whether you want Real Sailing Experience on their Eco-Friendly Sailing Cat, or on their large and stable powered cats they have a tour to suit most.

The one issue some people have with them is their non-profit status and the fact they appear to run as a non-profit charity. The actual situation is a little murky and not as obvious as it seems. From what we can tell there are two parts to the business the Non-Profit Foundation and the Profit making tour operation. The Foundation does some great work and helps research and conservation of the whales and other marine life of Hawaii. The Moneymaking arm is a business like any other but it donates part of it’s profits to the foundation.

Really this is no issue if you are aware of it. We think people dislike this arrangement as it seems the tours are all charity driven and you are helping to save the whales, whereas the reality is you are probably only making a very small contribution. But the other companies operating in Maui do not contribute at all, they are just more open about that. And remember any donations to the foundation will go directly to that and not the profit arm!

However you feel, their quality of the trips is fantastic and these are right up there with the best tours in Maui. The boats are top of the range and fully appointed and the on-Board naturalists are the best in the business. As we said they offer several tours of different types:

Ocean Spirit Whale Watch Sail – Lahaina – Pacific Whale Foundation
  • Price: $59 Adult – $30 Child (7-12)
  • Type: Sailing Catamaran
  • Location: Lahaina
  • Duration: 2 Hours
  • Additional: Drinks and Snacks including Alcohol for Purchase

This short two-hour sail on the Ocean Spirit, a fantastic modern Sailing Cat. Sailing out of Lahaina the tour cruises up the west mail coast searching for whales. The Channel along the West Maui coast is very prolific for whats so you are all but guaranteed a fantastic tour.

The Option to purchase drinks is always nice and gliding along the ocean with a drink in hand watching out for the Whales is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, the sails are not often deployed during Whale Season as the control of the craft is limited under wind power. This poses a risk if a Whale Pod surfaces right in front of the boat, this means the Cat is usually under engine power.

<<< Book With Tom Barefoot’s tours for our Club Price of $49.50! >>>

Whale Watch Maalaea – Pacific Whale Foundation
  • Price: $44 Adult – $25 Child (7-12) 
  • Type: Powered Catamaran
  • Location: Maalaea
  • Duration: 2 Hours
  • Additional: Drinks and Snacks including Alcohol for Purchase

These are the Bread and butter of the Pacific Whale Foundations offering. Their state of the art powered Cats that get you out to the whales fast and in comfort. The boats can be a little crowded and being large keeps a good distance from the whales. The high decks give an elevated viewing area that is a blessing and a curse. You can see further and look down on any close encounters but you are a bit remote from the whales in general.

The Tours pretty much always find Whales and while we prefer the Lahaina location the Maalaea Habour location will still get you out to the whales fast.

<<< Book With Tom Barefoot’s tours for our Club Price of $38.90! >>>

Whale Watch Lahaina – Pacific Whale Foundation
  • Price: $44 Adult – $25 Child (7-12)
  • Type: Powered Catamaran
  • Location: Lahaina
  • Duration: 2 Hours
  • Additional: Drinks and Snacks including Alcohol for Purchase

The Same tour as above only from Lahaina. We think this is the best option for most people and the tour will get you out to whales super fast and you could easily encounter over 30+ whales on a typical tour. The Naturalists know an awful lot about the whales and are all involved with the Foundation’s good work and will let you know exactly what they do to help protect the whales.

The Cruise up the West Maui Coastline is spectacular in itself and bringing the Whales in the mix only makes it more stunning. While some question the ethics of the foundation’s Profit arm, from a pure quality point of view we love their tours.

<<< Book With Tom Barefoot’s tours for our Club Price of $33.90! >>>

Trilogy Excursions

Humpback Maui Whale Watching
  • Price: $60 Adult – $50 youth (13-17) – $35 Child (3-12)
  • Type: Sailing Catamaran
  • Location: Lahaina or Maalaea or Kaanapali Beach
  • Duration: 2 Hours
  • Included: Drinks and Snacks included plus 2 Alcoholic drinks for Adults including Cocktails, Wine and Craft Beers

Trilogy off sailing catamaran tours out to the whales during whale watching season from Both Lahaina and Maalaea Harbours as well as a Kaanapali beach pick-up so where ever you are you can take a Trilogy tour. Their Catamarans are top of the range and the Trilogy team really tries to get the sails going on every trip.

This tour is the most expensive on our list but it includes food and drinks including 2 premium alcoholic drinks for the adults (Craft Beer, Wine, Prosecco, or cocktails!) this makes the whole trip really good value and the tour is probably our favorite of the whole list. It’s is sophisticated relaxing and genuinely awe-inspiring.

On top of the 3 basic 2 Hour tours, they offer the Deluxe Sunset Whale Watch. A gourmet PuPus dinner and unlimited coctails await as you watch the whales play as the sun goes down. Utterly magical!

<<< Book Maalaea With Tom Barefoot’s tours for $60 per Adult >>>

<<< Book Lahaina With Tom Barefoot’s tours for $60 per Adult >>>

<<< Book Kaanapali With Tom Barefoot’s tours for $60 per Adult >>>

<<< Book Sunset With Tom Barefoot’s tours for $110 per Adult >>>

Aloha Kayak Tours

Aloha Kayak Tours
  • Price: $110 Adult – $50 youth (10-12) – Children not allowed(0-10)
  • Type: Kayaks
  • Location: Makena or Olowalu
  • Duration: 4 Hours
  • Included: Drinks and Snacks Pinaple and Snorkelling Gear

Aloha Kyacks offer several guided tours at various locations all are around 4 hours and take in either the wild and remote Makena coastline or the stunning and calm Olowalu reefs. Tours are small groups and instructor-led. The tour heads out into the channel to hunt for whales. Even Kayaks are required to obey the minimum distance rule of 100yard but Kayak can push the boundaries a little more than a 70ft vessel and the whales often approach the group as they are less threatened by small kayaks.

After the Whales, you will be taken to a snorkeling spot where you hit the water. Expect to see Turtles, along with a whole host of reef fish.

These tours are for the reasonably fit, but you don’t need to be an athlete just have a reasonable level of fitness. They are fantastic for really immersing your self in ocean life.

Non – Whale Watching Tours

Humpback from Shore Napili

As we said any type of tour that heads out into the Au’Au Channel will undoubtedly come across Whales. While the dedicated Whale Watching tours offer some of the best oppotunities we have had fantastic whale sightings doing all sorts of other activities. Getting your whale Watching in this way can kill two birds with one stone.

Snorkeling Tours

Any Sornelling tour taken in Whale season will include and an element of whale watching. Molokini Snorkel tours are particularly suited to whale watching as the journey out to the islet is a particular hotbed for whales. Boats will listen to radio chatter and attempt to steer a course to he islet that will ensure whales galore!

Dinner Cruises

A sunset dinner cruise is great for whale watching. Dinner cruises rarely have a particular destination so simply cruise up and down the coastline taking in stunning vistas and the mindblowing sunset. This is really suited to hunting for whales and the captains will often try and includes whales into the itinerary.

Diving Trips

Some of the best Whale Watching we have done has been on Dive trips. The Surface interval is perfectly sited to Whale Watching and we have spent our time between dives with the whales on many occasions. Really the boat captain has little to do during the interval an is happy to take a look at their ocean inhabitants.

The Fast boats used also cover a lot of ground and whenever whales surface nearby they are obliged by law to kill the engines so you are automatically on a whale watch cruise even if it is no one’s intention.

Helicopter Tours

Helicopter Tours don’t even look for whales. From the Air, they are just unavoidable. Any tour that covers the Channel will spot whales during the season. The Molokai Cliffs tours are especially suited ass the channel is crossed twice and whale sighting inevitable.

Shore Viewing

You do not need to take any tour at all to spot whales in Maui and the shoreline has a ton of great locations where you can spot the whales. We go into detail one shore locations in our When To See the Whales in Maui post.

Have Your Say

Have you taken a Maui Whale Watching tour? Which tour company did you go with? How many whales did you see? Maybe you have a great experience with a non-Whale Watching tour? Or maybe you had a poor experience and a company on our list? Whatever you have to say feel free to share it in our comments section we would love to hear from you.

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *