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Inside: In the winter months, Kauai is ground zero for Hawaii whale watching. Here are my top picks for the most amazing Kauai whale-watching tours.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit the Hawaiian Islands during whale season, you’re in for a real treat.
During the winter months, the waters surrounding Kauai come alive with the graceful movements of Hawaii’s humpback whales. The migration of these magnificent creatures from the cool waters of Alaska to the warm, safe waters of Hawaii for calving, nursing, and mating is an annual much-anticipated event in Hawaii.
Fondly known as koholā in the Hawaiian language, these gentle giants are a wonder to observe in their natural habitat. And while we do spot them from Oahu (where I live) the island of Kauai is my favorite pick for exceptional, up-close whale watching.
Why? Because you get the spectacular Na Pali Coast as your whale-watching canvas.
Perhaps most famous as the backdrop for the movie Jurassic Park, this rugged and inhospitable 25-mile stretch encompasses about a quarter of Kauai’s coastline along the north shore.
If there’s one thing you absolutely cannot miss while visiting Kauai, it’s a visit to the Na Pali Coast – whether by helicopter tour or boat trip. But in the winter months, I always recommend boat trips.
Because when it’s whale season, every boat trip to the Na Pali coast doubles as a whale-watching adventure. And that’s a home run day trip that spells fun for the whole family.
FAQs about Whale Watching in Kauai
You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers. So before I get to my list of the best Kauai whale-watching tours, let’s tackle some of the most common questions about whale watching in Kauai.
Why do whales migrate to Hawaii?
The migration of humpback whales to the warm waters of Hawaii, in particular the Garden Isle of Kauai, is a survival instinct that has been followed for centuries.
The warm, shallow waters create an ideal environment for newborn baby whales, free from the threat of predators prevalent in the cold Alaska waters. At the same time, the adults take advantage of this time to mate (because Hawaii’s romantic like that).
When is whale season in Kauai?
Humpback whale season in Kauai begins roughly in November and ends in May. Though it’s not uncommon for whales to be spotted offshore as early as late October. The peak season is considered to be from December to March.
What is the best month to see whales in Kauai?
The peak months for whale watching are January and February. During these months you’ll have the best chance of multiple whale sightings during your boat tour.
What time of day is best for whale watching?
Whales can be spotted any time of day around Kauai but they are most active in the morning and around sunset. These are the best times of day to book your whale-watching trip. Tip: For the best chance of calm seas, book an early morning trip.
Which island is better for whale watching, Maui or Kauai?
Maui is widely considered the best place to see humpback whales in the Hawaiian islands. However, I have done incredible whale-watching tours on both Maui and Kauai and found them to be very comparable regarding the number of whale sightings.
However, the backdrop of the stunning Na Pali coast on my Kauai whale tours really elevated the whole experience for me. So, when considering the entire experience, I give the edge to Kauai for whale watching with extra amazing views of the coast.
But if you’re headed to Maui, here are my picks for the best Maui whale-watching tours:
Can I see whales from shore in Kauai?
You can! It’s common to spot whales from shore in Kauai. The best places to spot whales from shore are the Kilauea Lighthouse, the Kalalau Trail (a challenging hike), and even a few of Kauai’s best beaches – Poipu Beach, Kealia Beach, and Hanalei Bay.
So if you’re especially prone to seasickness or a whale-watching tour is out of your budget, head to one of these popular spots for a good chance to see them on dry land.
Whale Watching Tours on Kauai: Essential Info
If you’ve been on boat tours before in the Caribbean or Europe, it’s worth noting that the waters around the Hawaiian islands can be rough by comparison. Boat trips for whale watching in Hawaii aren’t for everyone.
And, as I mentioned above, you can likely spot whales from shore so don’t subject yourself to a 6-hour boat trip if you’ve had bad boat tour experiences before.
Before I get to my favorite tours, let’s talk a little about how to decide which type of tour is right for you.
What types of boat tours are offered?
Whale-watching tours on Kauai primarily fall into two categories – catamaran tours and zodiac raft tours. Trips to the Na Pali coast typically depart from the Port Allen Marina Center (west of Poipu on the south coast) and last from 5-6 hours including a stop for snorkeling.
Which boat type is better – Catamaran or Zodiac?
I like them both but it depends on how adventurous you are. There are pros and cons to each and you should weigh them carefully before you book a tour.
Catamaran Whale Watching Tours
Zodiac Whale Watching Tours
Zodiac Raft Pros
Zodiac Raft Cons
Will I get seasick on a Kauai whale-watching tour?
Honestly, you might. It’s a boat tour. If you’ve gotten seasick on cruises or other boat excursions, you might not love the open ocean waves around the Hawaiian islands.
If you’re worried about seasickness, a larger boat is a better choice and I would go with a catamaran trip versus a raft tour. Also, Kauai’s whale-watching tours are not recommended at all for those with limited mobility, back problems, recent surgeries, or pregnant women.
But enough about that, let’s get back to the good stuff. Like my picks for the best Na Pali Coast whale-watching trips.
Here we go!
Best Kauai Whale Watching Tours
By now, you’ve probably made your decision on the question of catamaran versus Zodiac raft. So I’ll break down my pick by boat type. So, grab your mai tai, and let’s get started!
Best Na Pali Coast Whale Watching Tours – Catamaran
The two catamaran tours and very similar and were hard to choose between. You can’t go wrong with either.
This 5 1/2 hour tour is one of my favorite Kauai tours year-round but it’s especially fantastic during Kauai’s whale watching season. Includes time to swim and snorkel, lunch, and island-style drinks (including Mai Tai’s).
Best Na Pali Coast Whale Watching Tours – Zodiac Raft
The zodiac raft is one of the best ways to get down to eye level with the gentle giants of the sea. Zodiac tours are the perfect choice for active travelers looking for a fun adventure.
Both of these trips include snorkeling as well as whale-watching. For a better chance of calm seas, I recommend the morning tour.
This 5 1/2 hour trip is the #1 Kauai raft tour any time of year. Morning tours include breakfast, afternoon tours include lunch, and both include beverages and snorkeling gear.
This 4 1/2 hour tour is aboard a 37′ “super raft” that is larger and more stable than traditional zodiacs. It’s a good cross between both boat choices and includes snorkeling.
Best Kauai Whale Watching Short Tours (under 3 hours)
If you’re short on time or worried about seasickness and hesitant to commit to a 5+ hour tour, you can still get out on the water in Kauai. Here are a couple of great shorter boat tours where you still have a good chance to see a whale, dolphin, or turtle.
Just keep in mind that these tours stick closer to the south shore of Kauai and don’t go all the way to the Na Pali coast. And the shorter the tour, the less you’ll likely see.
But I still think these are both great options (one of each boat type):
Departing from Kukui’ula Harbor Beach, this 2 1/2 hour adventure tour brings you up close and personal with dolphins and whales on a 24-person zodiac. Great choice near Poipu.
And that’s a wrap!
The marine ecosystem around the Hawaiian Islands is incredibly diverse, from humpback whales and playful dolphins to tropical fish and gentle sea turtles. When you visit Hawaii, it’s an important part of the cultural experience to get out on the water and appreciate the ocean’s power and beauty.
There is a vast world waiting to be discovered beneath Hawaii’s warm waters and there’s no better way to explore it than with a whale-watching trip along Kauai’s glorious Na Pali coast.
And if you’re headed to Oahu after your visit to Kauai, I’ve got you covered there, too: