Maui Must-Do’s: Whale Watching, Dolphin Sighting, Lanai Snorkelling

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There were so many activities that made our Maui trip fun and unforgettable. Be it paddleboarding along Maui’s sunny south shore or ziplining on the slopes of Haleakalā, they made us appreciate being surrounded by the spectacular natural beauty of the island. But if I had to choose one activity as the highlight, it would be the whale-watching tour we took with Ultimate Whale Watch. Watching the Humpback Whales swam right under our boat was the most memorable of all my Maui moments. Even after coming home, my heart still skipped a beat when looking at the photos and footage we took! Let me share with you this magical experience of being surrounded by the Humpback Whales, along with the dolphin and turtle encounters on our snorkeling trip to Lanai!

Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

A Little Background on the Whale Watching Season in Maui

Whale Watching Maui

Winter months are especially busy in Maui. Around 12000 North Pacific humpback whales travel 3500 miles from Alaska to the waters around Maui every year, between late November to early April. They migrate here to mate and give birth. And the warm, shallow waters of Maui is the ideal place for these activities!

Looking for a spot that has whale watching year round? Check out Monterey and Carmel, CA, two seaside villages you can easily add on to a vacation in San Francisco!

Fun fact: Can you believe that the Humpback Whales do not eat at all during their time in Maui? In fact, the waters here lack the nutrients the whales need so the whales fast and live on the blubber (fat) that they have stored during their Alaskan summer!

Many people who have been to Maui would tell that you can whale-watch from the shore. That is true, but to get a closer look, going on a whale watching boat tour is the way to go!

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Picking Whale Watching Tours – Why We Chose Ultimate Whale Watch?

There are tons of companies in Maui offering whale watching tours. One of the main differences is the type of boats the company offers. Your options include a) a catamaran, which is a large vessel that can hold up to 149 passengers with a stable viewing platform (safe for families!), b) a sailboat or yacht, which is smaller in size (~22 passengers) and built for speed and stability, or c) an inflatable raft that travels fast and gives a more intimate, personal experience (great for adventurers, but not recommended for pregnant women and people with recent back surgery).

An inflatable raft is the best choice to see the whales close-up so that narrowed down the options for us.

Whale Watching Maui

When booking a whale watching tour, it is also crucial to pick a company with an experienced crew and one that contributes to the local marine conservation – which is why Ultimate Whale Watch caught our attention. The company owns quick and safe vessels with all seats boast a 360° view and guarantee close whale encounters. In addition, its captains and crew member are ocean experts who know so much about the Humpbacks’ habits and instincts. Above all, they are dedicated to protecting the Humpback Whales by rescuing entangled whales and providing funding for permitted Humpback Whale research.

Whale Watching Maui

Going on a 2 Hour VIP Whale Watching Tour

Whale Watching Maui

To be honest, I was worried about the odds of seeing whales before our whale watching adventure with Ultimate Whale Watch. It was the end of the whale watching season when we visited, and this year, the whales arrived in Hawaii much earlier than the previous years and many had left already! Many locals were pessimistic about our chances of seeing the magnificent creatures.

Whale Watching Maui

Our marine naturalist guide, Sergio

15 minutes after our departure from Lahaina Harbour, my concern quickly dissipated. The marine naturalist, Sergio, attentively looking for “footprints” (circular area created by the whale’s tail that is visible on the water surface) while Captain Dave swiftly steered us towards the channel between Maui and Lanai. Suddenly, we spotted a Humpback Whale spraying from its blowhole as it rose to the ocean’s surface for breath!

Whale Watching Maui

searching for the “footprint”

Whale Watching Maui

a “blow”!

Everyone onboard exclaimed with excitement. The magic did not stop there. We knew that they usually come up for air every 15-20 mins so we waited patiently for the Humpbacks to make another appearance.

The whales usually swim in groups. A group of up to 20 males may jostle to get close to a single female. The males would sing, breach, fight, and show off, to get the female’s attention and to vie for the breeding rights with her. At one point of our tour, we sighted 2 to 3 males exhibited aggressive behaviors towards one another!! Check out the photo below of a male threatening another male with a head lunge, which consisted of raising its head above the water and thrusting it forcefully towards the rival whale!

Whale Watching Maui

a head lunge

Throughout the afternoon, Captain Dave continuously searched for whale action to make sure we had a whale of a time! We witnessed a few instances of fluke up dive, where the tail arched up out of the water and slipped down again below the surface, without any slapping action.

Whale Watching Maui

a fluke up dive

Maui has regulations that prohibit any person or vessel from approaching Humpback Whales within 100 yards. Captain Dave did a great job keeping the distance. But the most incredible moment occurred when a whale swam straight to the boat and exposed its white underbelly just beneath the surface of the water! I dipped my GoPro right into the water and snapped this once-of-a-lifetime photo!

Whale Watching Maui

[bctt tweet=”Traveling to #Maui? Make sure you see the Humpback Whales! #travel #bucketlist” username=”fortwoplz”]

Joining a Full-Day Lanai Dolphin Excursion

Besides whale watching tours, Ultimate Whale Watch also offers dolphin excursions. Their full-day Lanai snorkeling tour was a blast and provided us plenty of opportunities to observe the underwater life!

Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

We visited a total of 3 snorkel sites on Lanai and Lāhainā, Maui. My favourite spot was Kahalepalaoa (a.k.a. Club Lanai) off the southern shoreline of Lanai. This location is home to healthy coral reef formations, convict tang, yellow tang, octopus, sea urchin and Hawai‘ian green sea turtle!

Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

Right after my swim with the turtle, our captain, John, motored along the southern coast of Lanai for us to catch glimpses of Spinner Dolphins leaping from the water!

Do you know why they are called Spinner Dolphins? Actually, those dolphins are aptly named for their spinning ability! They can leap high into the air and spin as many as 7 times before hitting the water again!! How impressive is that?

Dolphins Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

Unlike the whales, those beloved ocean creatures are permanent residents in Hawai‘i. They feed offshore at night and return to the sheltered bays and coastlines to rest during the day. Their cuteness was irresistible and all I wanted to do was to hop into the water and swim with them! BUT, nope, it is not allowed as it will disrupt their sleep cycle. So let’s just admire them from a distance 😉

Dolphins Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

Captain John and our guide, Becca, kept us informed about the safety rules and were very knowledgeable about the marine life. Snorkeling in Lanai is amazing and I strongly recommend adding this to your list of things to do in Maui!

Whale Watching Snorkelling Maui Lanai

Big thanks to our guide, Becca, for this amazing experience!

What to Bring for the Tours

  • Bring a waterproof camera, a camcorder, or a GoPro. Gotta capture those special moments!
  • For snorkeling, also bring a towel, swimsuit, sunscreen, and a dry bag. They provide mask, snorkel, and fins, but if you have your own, welcome to use yours.
  • Very important: take motion sickness medication if you’re prone to get seasick. Consider putting on a scopolamine patch at least 4 hours prior to the activity (its effect can last up to 3 days).

We absolutely love the Humpback Whales and the Spinner Dolphins. We hope our experience and photos have inspired you to travel to Maui in winter! Have you been whale watching before? If so, where? Let me know in the comment below!

About Ultimate Whale Watch
Address: Lahaina Harbor, Slip #17, 675 Wharf Street Lahaina, Hawaii 96761

In Maui, make sure you see the Humpback Whales! The whale watching experience is magical. Also, watch out for the Spinner Dolphins!

Disclaimer: This post is written in partnership with Ultimate Whale Watch. As always, all opinions on For Two, Please are my own and I only recommend services that I 100% stand behind.

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34 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. What a wonderful set of experiences! We have been on various whale watching tours and I agree that the smaller rubber craft that get you closer are just magical. Maui is on my wish list to visit one day!

  2. Quick and safe vessels sounds like the right reason to book a tour! Good choice! I had never heard of spinner dolphins, but they sound like something really worth seeing. You took gorgeous photos too.

  3. Good post. Pictures are so vivid and you seem to have had a good time doing whale watching and snorkeling. I did it in Philippines and totally loved it.

  4. Oh, wouldn’t probably know what to do first, it all sounds great! Even though I try never to miss out on good snorkeling. But seeing the whale in the wild.. Amazing, thanks! 🙂

  5. Ah, it would be a dream come true to see whales in the wild waters off the island of Maui. You’re incredibly fortunate to have experienced this. I love the photography here, too.

  6. This would have been such a wonderful experience. Watching from the shore is just not the same as being up close to take the lovely photos that you have shared here. Choice of type of boat and selection of company to take you are obviously also important factors and it looks like you nailed this. Great photos again – especially the underwater ones. Go the GoPro!

  7. Wow this is insanely awesome. I loved your pictures especially the under water whale picture. That’s incredible! I will definitely try these activities when I visit Maui. Thanks for all the information about the tours – very useful while planning travels.

  8. Ah! truly, as you say, a whale of a time you guys had. Quite an informational article. I guess the waters in that part is as yet unspoiled and thereby gives us great opportunities.

  9. I am so, so jealous that I haven’t done something like this yet. Just…wow. It looks like an amazing trip and your pictures are so beautiful. You really made me want to do this

  10. Wow, sounds like a great experience! Seems like you got lucky seeing as it was the end of the season and you still got to see so many whales! I went whale watching in Sri Lanka and didn’t see a single whale!

  11. I’ve seen dolphins in San Diego but have yet to see whales in their natural habitat. The snorkeling looks great as well

  12. That is a great whale-watching tour and the green sea turtle picture looks amazing. I also appreciate the insights of the whales and dolphins you provided in here. I never known humpback whales does not eat during their entire stay in Hawaii.

  13. I have always wanted to do a whale watching tour and Maui would be the perfect place to do it. Your GoPro photo turned out great! Knowing my luck, mine would turn out blurry. Lol 

  14. It has been my childhood dream of seeing a live whale. Maui seems like so much fun with so much to do there. The para where you mention ‘footprints’ and spotting a Humpback Whale gave me goosebumps. Must be a once in a lifetime experience.

  15. I recently went Scuba Diving in Maldives, but sadly couldn’t swim with the Whale Sharks. It must have been an awesome experience to witness the gentle giants of the sea from so close.The shot of the whale belly is indeed an amazing photo.
    I would love to go on a dolphin spotting tour too.

  16. This looks like a beautiful trip. I was supposed to go diving today but the conditions didn’t permit it. It looks like snorkeling in Hawaii is always a good go. I would have to do this adventure if I made it to Hawaii.

  17. We were lucky to go whale watching from a yacht in Tenerife but the inflatable raft sounds like a great way to get a really immersive experience! Nice to have a marine naturalist guide with you too. I’ve learned something today about a fluke-up dive!

  18. I love your photos! I’ve never been to Hawaii, but I want to go so badly. I will definitely try whale watching when I am there. The natural beauty of Maui really is stunning.

  19. I have spotted dolphins that is the only consolation I have after reading this exciting article. Whales are are something I will be able to relate to in terms of size only after I see one. Hopefully That will be soon one day. The under water pics looks so thrilling.

  20. This was an amazing adventure! I have not been to Hawaii yet. It is one of my dream destinations.
    I love the underwater photos. I want to experience seeing marine animals like this too. I would probably choose the inflatable raft because it will be more exciting.

  21. Looks like you had an amazing time whale watching in Maui. Completely in awe of those pictures especially one you caught underwater. The pictures of Snorkelling are incredible too. And to be accompanied by guides who have information pertaining to the life underwater is a plus.

  22. So glad you had such an amazing time and made so many underwater friends! I’m itching to go back into the pen water because of this. I love that shot you got from dipping your GoPro into the ocean! EPIC.

  23. What an incredible day – so many wonderful experiences all wrapped up in one tour! You were so lucky to see everything that you did – I’ve been on a few boat trips recently looking for whales and dolphins with no sightings. But they are wild animals so I think that has to be expected. I would love to see a spinner dolphin though – and with 7 spins surely they would get dizzy?! I know I would!

  24. This looks like an amazing tour! You got to see so many sea animals! Good tip on the scopolamine as well. Looks like you guys had a great time!

  25. You got lucky with the shot of the whale! GoPro is the best for this kinda moment. Definitely would love to do all these when I visit Hawaii!

  26. Ummmm, this is amazing. You literally did everything I would wanna do while I was there. I would be a little skeptical at first too if the season was closing and no one had good energy about you seeing whales!! I reallllllly wanna do that on my trip up to Canada!

  27. wow! and you were worried not to see whales at that time of the year! what a great experience and too cool that you had your go pro by hand 😉

  28. Ultimate Whale Watch sounds like an incredible company, and wow your photos are incredible, can’t believe you got that shot of the whale coming right up to the boat – how nuts!! We got married on Maui but with all the stress of organizing and coordinating the wedding we didn’t have much time for honeymoon activities sadly had to jet back to Aus. So I would love to go back (without the extended family lol) and spend time enjoying ourselves with Ultimate Whale Watch!

  29. Nice tips and a great overall share about your fortunate times in Maui Cat. I know your excitement about seeing the humpbacks…they’re definitely my favorite and most exhilarating encounter in the wild. Reading this post makes me happy since we’re just about to head into our whale season, where we encounter humpbacks and dwarf minkhe’s nearly everyday for 3 months! (Our seasons are a little reversed down unda 🙂 And you’re right, your luck for plunging the gopro off the side of the boat for that shot is INSANE!

  30. Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards

  31. This looks amazing. I’m in the middle of planning my time in Hawaii, I go with my family next month. The company you went with looks great and I can;t believe how good that underwater image is! I’m getting excited about my trip now! Thank you so much for this great advice.

  32. Pingback: Why You Should Stay at Fairmont Kea Lani for Your Maui Vacation | For Two, Please

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  34. This is amazing! I like that they didn’t let you get in with the dolphins so not to disrupt their normal cycle. I haven’t been to Maui yet but I’ll definitely keep this experience in mind when I do go!

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