Hawaii is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Depending on where a person lives, the plane tickets alone can cost as much as an entire vacation elsewhere. But with so much to see and do—like snorkeling through coral reefs, visiting Volcanoes National Park, sifting your toes through green sand at Papakōlea beach, or surfing off Hawaii’s famed black sand beaches—it’s worth every penny.
You can have a snowball fight at the top of Mauna Kea in the morning, sunbathe on golden sand as soft as piles of warm puppies in the afternoon, and scuba dive with colorful fish in the evening. You might even get lucky and spot a pod of dolphins swimming beneath you!
Here’s my advice: to get the biggest bang for your buck, visit during the months of winter because humpback whales migrate there during that time of year.
Humpback whales travel about 3,000 miles to get to Hawaii. In fact, in their average lifetime, humpbacks swim approximately a length equivalent to the distance to the moon and back! In the fall, humpbacks start migrating to Hawaii so that they can mate, give birth, and help their young calves grow strong in Hawaii’s warm, pristine waters. This makes for great whale watching, arguably some of the best in the world.
A popular, but sometimes pricey way view whales is by boat. There are plenty of tourist day cruises available during the months of peak whale watching, from mid-December to early May. Because humpback whales are endangered, it is legal for whale watching boats to approach whales up to 100 yards away. But even from this distance, you will feel really close when they come up for air because humpback whales are colossal in size—sometimes more than fifty feet long! Although there are no whale watching helicopter tours, if you get lucky like I did, you might have the good fortune of seeing them beneath you while you fly over the crystal clear waters. I went on a Blue Hawaiian Helicopter tour and saw waterfalls, volcanoes, and whales!
But sometimes the easiest and most economical way to view whales is simply by watching them from the shoreline. It’s a relaxing thing you can do when you sunbathe or hike along the beach. Or, you can be like me, and watch for them from my favorite restaurant, Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa. It’s located adjacent to Anaeho’omalu Beach, or “A Bay” as locals like to call it.
When gazing out to the horizon, be sure to look for signs that whales are in the area. The easiest thing to look for are “spouts” which occur when whales come up for air. They blow condensed water vapor (among other materials!) out their blowholes up into the air up to forty feet. My dad calls it a giant snotrocket. You can also look for slaps of their massive fins, both dorsal fins and tails, on the water. If you’re very lucky, you’ll see a whale “breach” when they jump completely out of the water. It is a spectacular, mind-blowing sight.
On my last day of my recent two-week trip, I was miserable at the prospect of leaving, and I wallowed in self-pity sipping my kid version of a piña colada (alcohol-free, of course) and devoured my final coconut shrimp at Lava Lava Beach Club. As I gazed upon the open ocean, I savored the sight of about twenty whales breaching during the course of my meal. I felt as though they were trying to say goodbye. Or maybe, I hope, it was just, “Until next time.”
What a sendoff!
You can see why whale watching season is the best time to plan a trip to Hawaii for the life-changing experience of the Aloha spirit.