Best Time of Day for Whale Watching in Hawaii – Revealed

Welcome, dear whale watching enthusiasts!

You’re in for a treat because I’ve been on a mission to find the best time of day to see whales in their natural habitat, and I’m thrilled to share my findings with you. After numerous adventures and even skipping out on movie nights with my boyfriend (sorry, sweetie!), I’ve discovered the secrets behind successful whale watching.

We all know how frustrating it can be when we miss out on that magical moment of seeing whales leaping gracefully from the water – and trust me, I’ve been there! But fear not; I’m here to help you avoid such heartaches and guide you towards those awe-inspiring encounters.

Having spent years exploring different locations and experiencing various whale-watching tours, together with my boyfriend, we now have an impressive repertoire of do’s and don’ts when it comes to this fascinating activity. My dedication means you’ll benefit from tried-and-tested tips that are bound to make your next adventure unforgettable.

Nowadays, it seems like everyone’s an expert at something. Well, let me tell you: when it comes to finding that perfect spot or timing for observing our beautiful cetacean friends – that’s totally me! From secluded vantage points by the beach to incredible guided tours that take you right up close with these gentle giants – this article covers it all!

Warning: Your newfound expertise in whale watching might result in endless conversations about your new passion (consider yourself warned!).

When is whale watching season?

The migration season for North Pacific Humpback whales is each year in the wintertime. Officially, whale season in Hawaii lasts from December 15-May 15, however, there are many whales to see all through November as well. During this time it’s estimated that over 15-thousand whales migrate to the warm waters of the islands. 

These Humpback whales travel from Alaska (a swim over 3.000 miles) and can be seen as early as October. These majestic creatures fill the waters around the Hawaiian Islands, however, don’t forget they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. No boat (or person) can approach them closer than 100 yards. 

What are the best spots for whale watching on each island?

Big Island

The north-western coast of the Big Island is rich in humpback populations during the winter. If you choose to go whale watching without a tour, choose locations such as Kapa’a Beach Park, Lapakahi State Park, Puukohola Heiau, or Holoholokai Beach Park. To enjoy these locations make sure to pack well and prepare, so you can be comfortable. For me, this means comfortable shoes, plenty of water, and binoculars (and sun protection of course). Seeing a spout of water in the distance will usually be one of your first signs the whales are near. 

Still, those looking for a professional guide and a way to get close up to the animals should consider a tour. On average they are about $80 to $100 per person. 


The Makapu’u Lighthouse is one of the best spots on Oahu for watching humpback whales (and a great hike, for those who are fans). Other good locations include Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and Oahu’s southern and western harbors. For those who are not patient (and you should be, taking a few hours for the activity), there are always organized tours. Choose a tour that respects the culture and tradition of these magnificent creatures and you can enjoy tail slaps, breaching, and more. 


The shallow Auʻau Channel between Maui, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi is a goldmine for whale humpback watching. In fact, (in my opinion) this could be the best whale-watching spot in the world. No wonder it’s a protected sanctuary. For the best view, choose Lahaina Harbor at dawn or dusk, when the whales are most active. Other great options (we have visited) include Olowalu Area Beaches (South of Lahaina), Papawai Scenic Lookout, and La Perouse Bay. These are great spots to go if you don’t wish to pay for an official tour and guide. However, keep in mind that going on your own will require some waiting and patience. Taking a tour will also allow you to get much closer to the animals and learn about their biology and life cycle. 

What time of day is best for whale watching?

Whales are usually most active during twilight hours, which means early mornings and dusk. It’s usually best to go whale watching or take a tour early in the morning. Not only is this a time when the whales are most active, but the water conditions are also the best. Statistically, there is less chance of rain in the mornings, and there is less wind than in the afternoons. Making the water calm, smooth, and perfect for whale watching. 

Best whale-watching tours in Hawaii

As someone who is an avid whale watcher, here are my favorite three tours from the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu. Each one has a great tour guide, the staff is knowledgeable, safety-focused, and respectful of the animals. For the best-guided tours check these out:

Oahu Whale-Watching Excursion

Duration: 2 hours (approx.)

Meeting point: Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, HI 96813


Whale Watching On The Big Island

Duration: 3 hours (approx.)

Meeting point: 74-425 Kealakehe Pkwy, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740


Small-Group Whale Watching Adventure (Maui)

Duration: 2 hours (approx.)

Meeting point: Harbor Slip #16, 675 Wharf St, Lahaina, HI 96761


Whale behaviors to watch out for!

Tail Slapping

Seeing a large humpback whale tail slap is a great sight. They do this to warn off other whales or predators. It’s a dramatic act and a wonderful one to see. If you are lucky to see a pod (group of whales) you are also most likely to witness this event. 


This is a term used when a whale essentially jumps out of the water throwing itself back in. At this time most of the whale’s body is out of the water and you can really appreciate the size and power of these creatures. This is a common act for humpback whales specifically, so patient watchers will most likely see it. 

Pectoral Fin Slapping

This is another common action by humpback whales. Essentially they lay on their side and slap the water with their large fin. It makes a splash and looks like a playful act. This is a way for whales to communicate, so if you see it, chances are there is a pod nearby.

Conclusion on the best time of day for whale watching in Hawaii

During the winter months, Hawaii becomes one of the best places for humpback whale watching in the world. 

Though they can be seen all day long, the best times to enjoy them are early morning and before dusk. To do this I have given you great tips and spots on each island, along with a lot of additional information to make your experience special.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the world of whale watching and discover those magical moments waiting just below the surface!

Last Updated on May 1, 2023 by Brigitte