30 Sep 2023
In the United States, the only place to see humpback whales gather to mate, calve, and nurse their young is in Hawaii. Kauai has become a destination for nature and animal lovers alike because of the likelihood of getting to see humpback whales in their natural habitat as they raise their young. The whales gather around the Hawaiian Islands during the colder months so now is the time to start planning your trip to see them.
When you visit, you can see the whales almost daily even from the beach but if you're truly passionate, you'll want to plan your visit and activities all around nature's gentle giants. With the winter in full swing, here is everything you need to know as you start finalizing plans for your whale watching vacation in Kauai.
When is Peak Whale Watching in Kauai
Kaua'i whale watching tours are best during the winter and into early spring when you'll have the greatest chance to catch a glimpse of the majestic creatures. Kohola (pronounced Ko-Ho-La), Hawaiian for Humpback Whales, migrate to the warm waters of Hawai’i to breed, give birth, and nurse their keiki (pronounced Kay-Key) sometimes as early as October. It is estimated that about 10,000 humpback whales make the journey to the tropical waters of the aloha state each year. Whale Watching Season in Hawai’i typically runs from December to May every year, however, the best time to see these gentle giants in action is January through March.
What to Expect While Whale Watching in Kauai
Kohola have a special relationship with the islands and the community so there are plenty of resources to make the most of your time. These peaceful, large creatures glide through the water with ease and it's truly a spectacle to behold. When breaching, humpback whales can expose as much as 40% of their bodies above the surface for some Instagram-worthy photos. There are many options in Kauai for whale watching tours by boat or you can even try to see them from the beaches. If you really want to get up close and personal, try a kayaking tour or paddleboard to be right on the surface with them!
Some whale watching tours will even offer an enhanced experience with "hydrophones." Whales communicate through clicks, whistles, and pulses with each other in order to travel and stay together. Hydrophones allow you to listen to them communicate and elevate your experience by enjoying the "humpback song."
About Humpback Whales
These mammals do not have teeth; they have baleen, which are plates located inside the whales' mouths used to filter small fish, plankton, krill, and other small ocean animals. An average humpback whale will eat 4,400-5,500 lbs of food each day by filtering large amounts of seawater.
At birth, keiki kohola are about 12 feet long and can weigh about 2,000 pounds. The average adult humpback whale will range in length from 39-52 feet and in weight from 28-33 short tons. Humpbacks communicate by exhibiting a variety of behaviors such as blowing, breaching (jumping out of the water), tail or fin slapping, and many others.
If they are close enough to shore you are likely to see their activities from the Kaua’i shorelines. Some of our favorite spots to view their impressive water acrobatics include Shipwreck's Beach, Makahuena Point, Poipu Beach, and Spouting Horn.
Although 10,000 migrating whales sounds like a lot, Hawaiian Humpback Whales have been listed as endangered species since the 1970s. In 1992, the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created to protect humpbacks and their Hawaiian habitat. The boundary of the sanctuary encompasses approximately 1,218 square nautical miles of coastal and ocean waters around the islands of Maui, Lanaʻi, and Molokaʻi, and parts of Oʻahu, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi.
Want to get involved and help the humpbacks? Now you can volunteer to count whale activity from the shorelines. Find more kohola info by visiting NOAA’s website.
Whale Watching Boat Tours in Kauai
Looking for a closer view of these majestic creatures? If your sea legs are ready, your best bet for a more intimate encounter will be by boat tour. Here are a few boat tour operators who offer departures from the Kukuiula Harbor in Sunny Poipu:
This 2-hour snorkel tour includes marine life encounters, snorkeling and a picnic deli lunch with beverages in a secluded harbor . Encounter playful Dolphins, Humpback whales, Sea Turtles, colorful reef fish and the natural beauty of Kauai's southern shores (not NaPali). Pupus (appetizers) and drinks included.
- Duration: 2 hours
- When: 12:15pm or 3:15pm daily
- Boat: 60’ Catamaran
- Cost: $110 pp
- Phone: 808.335.5309
December through May, Kauai Sea Riders offers a special 2.5 hour Zodiac adventure to view the Humpback whales in their winter playground.
- Duration: 2.5 hours
- When: 8:30am and 3:45pm daily
- Boat: 25' Zodiac
- Cost: Approximately $110 pp
- Phone: 808.742.7422
Experience Humpback Whales and view them in their natural habitat while on Capt. Andy’s 2-hour up-close exploration ride. The tour destination will be the sunny south-west coast of Kauai. There is no snorkeling on this tour.
- Duration: 2 hours
- When: Departs from Kekaha, daily
- Boat: 55’ Catamaran
- Approximately $99 pp
- Phone: 808.335.6833
There are also many others who depart from Port Allen (about 20 minutes west of Poipu):
Available during the Kauai Whale Watching Season (November – March). Share the beauty of Kauai’s south shore with some of the world’s largest and most peaceful creatures. (light food and drinks included)
- Duration: 2 hours
- When: 1:00pm daily
- Boat: 65’ Catamaran
- Approximately $80-$110 pp
- Phone: 808.335.5553
Enjoy a beautiful sunset like a kama’aina (local resident), as you set sail along Kauai’s sunny south shore listening to the classic mellow sounds of Hawaii’s artists from the 1970’s. Enjoy an all-inclusive, fun-filled evening of local food, music and genuine aloha hospitality service. Aloha attire is more than welcome. Aloha Sunset Tour is available November 18th to January 15th 2019, seven days a week.
- Duration: 2 hours
- When: 3:45pm daily
- Boat: 50’ Catamaran
- Cost: Approximately $85 pp
- Phone: 808.335.0815
Plan Your Whale Watching Tour & Book Your Kauai Rental Today!
Browse through our collection of vacation rentals to find one in the perfect spot for your whale watching experience. From oceanfront homes to put you in the best view of the waters to private homes, you can find the vacation rental that's perfect for you and your family. Book yours today to be here for peak whale-watching season!