The Ultimate Guide to Whale Watching in Waikiki

The Ultimate Guide to Whale Watching in Waikiki: Tips and insights on spotting whales in the Pacific Ocean, choosing the best tour, and more. Embark on a memorable adventure in beautiful Waikiki!

Imagine the sheer excitement of standing on the shores of Waikiki, eyes fixed on the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, eagerly searching for a glimpse of one of nature’s most majestic creatures – the whale. With its breathtaking beaches and captivating marine life, Waikiki is the ultimate destination for whale watching enthusiasts from around the world. This guide will take you on a fascinating journey, providing valuable tips and insights on when and where to spot these incredible mammals, and how to make the most of your whale watching experience in beautiful Waikiki. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure as you immerse yourself in the wonders of whale watching in Waikiki!

When to Go

Whale Migration Season

Waikiki is known for its incredible whale watching opportunities, and one of the best times to witness these majestic creatures is during the whale migration season. This season typically runs from December to April, when humpback whales leave their summer feeding grounds in Alaska and make their way to the warm Pacific waters surrounding Hawaii. So if you’re planning a trip to Waikiki, make sure to visit during these months to increase your chances of seeing these magnificent creatures up close.

Best Time of Day

While there is no specific “best” time of day to go whale watching in Waikiki, mornings and early afternoons tend to offer better visibility and calmer waters. The lighting conditions during these times also make for great photo opportunities. It’s important to note that weather and ocean conditions can impact your whale watching experience, so always check the local forecast and consult with tour operators for the most up-to-date information.

Weather Considerations

When planning your whale watching adventure in Waikiki, it’s essential to consider the weather conditions. Hawaii’s tropical climate can be unpredictable, so pack accordingly. Lightweight, breathable clothing and a hat to protect you from the sun are a must. Don’t forget to bring a light rain jacket or poncho in case of sudden showers. It’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen and apply it generously to protect your skin from the strong Hawaiian sun. Being prepared for various weather conditions will ensure that you can fully enjoy your whale watching experience in Waikiki.

Choosing a Whale Watching Tour

Researching Tour Companies

There are several tour companies in Waikiki that offer whale watching excursions. To choose the best one for you, take some time to research their reputations, reviews, and safety records. Look for tour operators who have experienced and knowledgeable guides, as they can enhance your experience by providing interesting facts and insights about the whales and the surrounding marine ecosystem.

Types of Tours Available

Different tour companies offer various types of whale watching tours in Waikiki. Some tours are shorter, lasting just a few hours, while others may be half-day or full-day excursions. Some companies even offer specialized tours, such as sunset cruises or snorkeling with whales. Consider your preferences and available time when selecting a tour that suits your needs.

Boat Size and Capacity

The size and capacity of the boat can have a significant impact on your whale watching experience. Smaller boats provide a more intimate and up-close encounter with the whales, allowing you to feel closer to these magnificent creatures. Larger boats, on the other hand, offer more stability and amenities such as restrooms, snacks, and indoor seating. Consider your comfort level and prioritize what is most important to you when choosing a whale watching tour in Waikiki.

Safety Measures

When embarking on a whale watching tour, your safety should always be a top priority. Make sure the tour company you choose prioritizes safety by providing life jackets, safety briefings, and following guidelines set by local authorities. The crew should be trained in first aid and emergency procedures, ensuring that you are in capable hands throughout the duration of the tour.

Cost and Value for Money

While it’s tempting to choose the cheapest whale watching tour, it’s important to consider the overall value for your money. Cheaper tours may not provide the same level of expertise, comfort, or safety measures. Take into account the reputation of the tour company, the quality of their equipment, and the expertise of their guides. Sometimes paying a little extra can make a significant difference in the quality of your whale watching experience.

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Preparing for the Whale Watching Experience

What to Wear

Preparing for a whale watching tour in Waikiki involves dressing appropriately for the occasion. Opt for comfortable clothing, such as lightweight pants or shorts and breathable shirts. Since the weather can be unpredictable, layering is key. Bring a light jacket or sweater that you can easily remove if it becomes too warm. Don’t forget to wear comfortable, non-slip footwear suitable for being on a boat.

Pack Essentials

To fully enjoy your whale watching experience in Waikiki, make sure to pack some essentials. Bring a pair of binoculars to get a closer look at the whales, as well as a camera or smartphone to capture those unforgettable moments. It’s also a good idea to bring a waterproof bag or pouch to protect your valuables from any unexpected splashes.

Bring Snacks and Refreshments

While most tour operators provide snacks and beverages, it’s always a good idea to pack some of your favorite snacks and drinks. Having a small supply of energy-boosting snacks and water can come in handy during the tour, especially if you get hungry or thirsty while out at sea.

Apply Sunscreen

Protecting your skin from the intense Hawaiian sun is crucial. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF before boarding the whale watching tour. Make sure to cover all exposed areas of your body, including your face, neck, arms, and legs. Reapply sunscreen regularly throughout the tour to maintain adequate protection.

Stay Hydrated

Whale watching in the open waters of Waikiki can be physically demanding, so it’s essential to stay hydrated. Bring a refillable water bottle and drink plenty of fluids throughout the tour to prevent dehydration. Drinking water will also help combat the tropical heat and keep you feeling energized and refreshed.

Motion Sickness Prevention

If you are prone to motion sickness, taking preventative measures can make your whale watching experience much more enjoyable. Consider taking over-the-counter motion sickness medication, wearing acupressure wristbands, or using natural remedies such as ginger or peppermint to alleviate symptoms. It’s always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before taking any medication.

Getting to Waikiki

By Air

If you’re planning to visit Waikiki from another island in Hawaii or from the mainland, the most convenient way to get there is by air. Honolulu International Airport is just a short distance from Waikiki, and several major airlines offer direct flights to and from various destinations. Once you arrive at the airport, you can take a taxi, shuttle, or ride-sharing service to your hotel or directly to the whale watching departure location.

By Sea

Another option to reach Waikiki is by sea. If you are already in Hawaii and want to enjoy a scenic journey, consider taking a cruise to Honolulu Harbor. Waikiki is easily accessible from the harbor, and many cruise ships dock nearby. You can either walk to your hotel or arrange for transportation to your desired destination.

By Rental Car

Renting a car is a popular choice for travelers who want to explore the island at their own pace. Several car rental companies have locations at the airport, making it convenient to pick up a vehicle upon arrival. From the airport, it’s a short drive to Waikiki. Keep in mind that parking in Waikiki can be challenging and expensive, so check with your hotel for parking options before making your decision.

Public Transportation

If you prefer to utilize public transportation, there are several options available to reach Waikiki from the airport or other parts of Honolulu. The Honolulu Rail Transit Project is currently under construction and will provide a convenient way to travel around the city once completed. In the meantime, you can rely on TheBus, Honolulu’s public bus system, which offers routes to and from Waikiki. Additionally, taxis, ride-sharing services, and hotel shuttles are readily available for transportation within Waikiki and the surrounding areas.

Whale Viewing Etiquette

Observe from a Distance

When you embark on a whale watching tour in Waikiki, it’s important to remember that you are a visitor in the whales’ natural habitat. Respect their space by observing them from a safe distance. Keep in mind that federal regulations require boats to maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from whales. It’s essential to follow these guidelines to ensure the well-being of the whales and their continued accessibility for future generations.

No Touching or Feeding

While it may be tempting to reach out and touch these magnificent creatures, it is strictly prohibited. Altering the whales’ behavior or environment can cause distress or harm to them. Feeding whales is also against the law, as it disrupts their natural feeding patterns and can have severe consequences for their overall health and well-being.

Avoid Loud Noises

Whales have incredibly sensitive hearing, and loud noises can disturb and disorient them. Avoid making excessive noise or playing loud music during your whale watching tour. By keeping noise levels to a minimum, you can maintain a peaceful and natural environment for the whales and enhance your chances of observing their natural behaviors.

Be Respectful of Other Tourists

Whale watching is a popular activity in Waikiki, and you may find yourself sharing the experience with other tourists. Be mindful and respectful of their space and ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to observe the whales. Avoid obstructing the view or causing distractions that could disrupt others’ experiences.

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Following the Guide’s Instructions

During your whale watching tour, it’s crucial to follow the instructions and guidelines provided by your tour guide. These instructions are designed to ensure your safety and the well-being of the animals. Listen attentively and ask questions if anything is unclear. By following the guide’s instructions, you can fully enjoy your whale watching experience and help maintain a safe and respectful environment for both you and the whales.

Spotting Whales in Waikiki

Best Locations for Whale Watching

Waikiki offers several excellent vantage points for whale watching. One of the most popular spots is Diamond Head, a volcanic crater located on the eastern side of Waikiki. From here, you can witness the humpback whales as they breach and play in the waters just off the coast. The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, located on the southeastern tip of Oahu, also provides breathtaking views of the whales during the migration season.

Signs of Whale Activity

To increase your chances of spotting whales in Waikiki, it’s essential to know what signs to look for. Keep an eye out for spouts, which are the exhales of air and water that whales release from their blowholes. These spouts can be seen from a distance and are a clear indication of the presence of whales. Also, watch for breaching, tail slapping, and other behaviors that signal whale activity. If you notice a congregation of seabirds diving into the water, it may indicate the presence of feeding whales as well.

Identifying Different Whale Species

Waikiki is primarily known for its humpback whale sightings during the migration season. These whales can be identified by their distinct body shape, with long pectoral fins and a protruding knobby head. However, other whale species can also be spotted in the waters around Waikiki, such as pilot whales and false killer whales. Learning about the different species and their characteristics can enhance your whale watching experience and increase your appreciation for these incredible creatures.

Equipment for Spotting Whales

To fully appreciate and observe the whales during your whale watching tour, it’s helpful to have the right equipment. Binoculars are essential for getting a closer look at the whales and observing their behaviors in more detail. You can also bring along a camera with a telephoto lens to capture high-quality photos of the whales. Remember to turn off the flash and use a quiet shutter to avoid startling or disturbing the animals.

Understanding Whale Behavior


One of the most spectacular behaviors exhibited by whales is breaching. This is when a whale propels itself out of the water, often partially or completely exposing its body. Breaching can occur for various reasons, including communication, play, or to dislodge parasites from their skin. Witnessing a breach is a truly awe-inspiring experience and a highlight of any whale watching tour in Waikiki.


Whales are naturally curious animals, and one way they satisfy their curiosity is through spyhopping. This behavior involves the whale vertically lifting its head out of the water, allowing them to observe their surroundings more closely. Spyhopping is often done to get a better view of their environment or to curiously inspect boats or other objects in the water.

Tail Slapping

Tail slapping is a behavior in which a whale raises its tail flukes out of the water and forcefully slaps them on the surface. This behavior can serve various purposes, such as communication, play, or even to warn off potential threats. The sound of a tail slap can be heard from a significant distance, making it an attention-grabbing behavior for both humans and other whales.


Fluking refers to when a whale dives and raises its tail out of the water, displaying the undersides of its tail flukes. Each humpback whale has a unique pattern on its tail, similar to a human fingerprint, making it possible to identify individual whales through their fluke markings. Fluking is a common behavior observed during whale watching tours and provides an excellent opportunity for identification and photography.

Bubble Net Feeding

Bubble net feeding is a fascinating behavior predominantly observed in humpback whales. In this cooperative feeding technique, a group of whales work together to encircle a school of fish by blowing bubbles in a circular pattern. This creates a “net” of bubbles that traps the fish, making it easier for the whales to capture their prey. Witnessing this behavior is a rare and incredible sight during a whale watching tour in Waikiki.


Whales are highly social animals and often engage in social behaviors during their time in Waikiki. You may witness breaching contests, where multiple whales breach in unison, or hear the elaborate and haunting songs of male humpback whales. These songs can last for minutes or even hours and are believed to play a role in courtship and communication among whales. Observing these social behaviors provides a deeper understanding of the complex lives of these magnificent creatures.

Photography Tips for Capturing Whales

Bring the Right Equipment

To capture stunning photos of the whales during your whale watching tour, it’s important to bring the right equipment. A digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with a telephoto lens will allow you to zoom in and capture detailed shots of the whales. If you don’t have a DSLR, a high-quality smartphone with a zoom feature can also capture great images. Additionally, consider bringing a tripod to stabilize your camera and reduce motion blur.

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Choose the Right Settings

To capture clear and sharp images of the whales, adjust your camera settings accordingly. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the whales’ motion and prevent blurring. Set your camera to continuous autofocus mode to ensure that the moving whales remain in focus. Depending on the lighting conditions, you may need to adjust your ISO and aperture settings to achieve the proper exposure.

Compose Your Shots

Composition plays a vital role in capturing captivating whale photos. Look for interesting angles and perspectives to create visually appealing compositions. Consider including elements of the surrounding environment, such as the ocean, the coastline, or fellow whale watchers, to give your photos a sense of scale and context. Experiment with different compositions and framing to create unique and memorable images.

Use Burst Mode

Whales can be unpredictable, and capturing the perfect shot may require taking multiple photos in rapid succession. Utilize your camera’s burst mode to capture a series of images in quick succession. This will increase your chances of capturing the ideal moment, whether it’s a breach, a tail slap, or any other extraordinary behavior exhibited by the whales.

Capture the Surroundings

While the focus of your photography may be the whales, don’t forget to capture the stunning surroundings of Waikiki as well. Include the blue ocean, the coastline, and the breathtaking landscapes in your photos to create a sense of place and enhance the visual storytelling of your whale watching experience. Capturing the surroundings will add depth and context to your images, making them even more memorable.

What to Expect on a Whale Watching Tour

Safety Briefing

Before embarking on your whale watching tour, you can expect to receive a safety briefing from the tour operator or your tour guide. This briefing will cover important safety procedures, including the proper use of life jackets, emergency protocols, and guidelines for interacting with the whales. Pay close attention and ask any questions you may have to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Educational Commentary

Many whale watching tours in Waikiki offer educational commentary throughout the tour. Knowledgeable guides will provide interesting facts about the whales, their behaviors, and their importance in the marine ecosystem. Listen attentively to learn more about these incredible creatures and gain a deeper appreciation for their role in the natural world.

Whale Identification

During your whale watching tour, your guide will help you identify different whale species and provide information about the specific individuals you encounter. They may point out distinctive markings on the whales’ tails, known as flukes, which can help in identifying individual humpback whales. Learning about the individual characteristics of the whales you encounter adds a personal touch to your experience and allows you to develop a connection with these remarkable creatures.

Close Encounters

Depending on the behavior and proximity of the whales, you may have the opportunity to experience close encounters with these magnificent creatures. They may swim alongside the boat, breach nearby, or even spyhop within clear view. Close encounters provide an unparalleled opportunity to witness the grandeur and majesty of the whales up close. Remember to follow the guidelines provided by your tour operator and maintain a respectful distance to ensure the safety and well-being of both you and the whales.

Group Activities

Some whale watching tours in Waikiki offer additional group activities to enhance your experience. These activities may include educational presentations, interactive demonstrations, or even the chance to participate in research efforts. Engaging in group activities not only adds to your overall enjoyment but also contributes to the conservation and protection of these incredible creatures.

Alternative Activities in Waikiki

Explore Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is a world-renowned destination known for its stunning coastline, clear turquoise waters, and vibrant atmosphere. Spend some time relaxing on the golden sands, take a swim in the refreshing ocean, or try your hand at popular water sports such as surfing, paddleboarding, or snorkeling. With a bustling beachfront lined with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, you’ll never be short of things to do in Waikiki.

Visit the Waikiki Aquarium

Located along the Waikiki shoreline, the Waikiki Aquarium offers a fascinating glimpse into Hawaii’s marine life. Explore various exhibits showcasing a wide range of tropical fish, reef sharks, seahorses, and even Hawaiian green sea turtles. The aquarium also hosts educational programs, interactive displays, and daily feeding shows, making it an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors of all ages.

Hiking in Diamond Head State Monument

For those seeking adventure and panoramic views of Waikiki, hiking to the top of Diamond Head State Monument is a must. This iconic volcanic crater offers a challenging yet rewarding hike, with a well-maintained trail leading to the summit. As you ascend, enjoy breathtaking vistas of the sparkling Pacific Ocean, the Honolulu skyline, and the lush landscapes of Oahu. Remember to bring suitable footwear, water, and sunscreen for a comfortable and enjoyable hike.

Enjoy Water Sports

Waikiki is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. From surfing to paddleboarding, there is an activity to suit every skill level. Take a surf lesson and ride the famous waves of Waikiki, or explore the calm waters on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, these thrilling water sports will add an extra level of excitement to your Hawaiian vacation.

Indulge in Local Cuisine

No visit to Waikiki is complete without savoring the diverse and mouthwatering flavors of Hawaiian cuisine. From traditional dishes like poke and kalua pig to fusion creations that blend Hawaiian, Asian, and other international influences, the local food scene in Waikiki offers a tantalizing array of options. Explore the many restaurants, food trucks, and vendors that line the streets of this vibrant destination and treat your taste buds to a culinary adventure.

Whale watching in Waikiki is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that allows you to witness these gentle giants up close in their natural habitat. By following the tips and information in this guide, you can ensure a memorable and respectful whale watching adventure. Remember to plan your visit during the whale migration season, choose a reputable tour company, and prepare yourself with the right clothing and equipment. With the right preparation, you’re all set to embark on the ultimate whale watching adventure in Waikiki!