The Ultimate Guide to Whale Watching on the Big Island

Discover the ultimate guide to whale watching on the Big Island. Learn about the best spots, booking a tour, preparing for your adventure, and more!

Imagine yourself standing on the rugged coastline of the Big Island, as the warm sun kisses your skin and the gentle breeze whispers through your hair. In the distance, you catch a glimpse of a majestic creature emerging from the depths of the sparkling blue ocean. This is no ordinary sighting, for you are about to embark on an extraordinary adventure – whale watching on the Big Island. Get ready to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of these magnificent creatures as they breach and play amidst the breathtaking backdrop of this tropical paradise.

Choosing the Right Season

Winter Whale Watching Season

If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii and have your heart set on witnessing the majestic beauty of whales in their natural habitat, it’s important to choose the right season. One of the best times to go whale watching on the Big Island is during the winter whale watching season, which typically runs from December to April. This is when thousands of humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii from Alaska.

Humpback Whale Migration

The humpback whales make an incredible journey all the way from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii every winter. This migration is undertaken to give birth, nurse their young, and mate. The humpback whales of the North Pacific population, which frequent the waters of the Big Island, are known for their acrobatic displays, breaching, and distinct songs. They are truly a sight to behold.

Best Time for Whale Watching on the Big Island

While the winter whale watching season spans from December to April, the peak of the humpback whale migration is usually between January and March. During this time, you have the highest chance of spotting these magnificent creatures in action. The weather is also more favorable, with calmer seas and clearer skies. Just imagine the thrill of being on a boat and witnessing a humpback breach the water right in front of your eyes!

Best Spots for Whale Watching

Hilo Bay

Hilo Bay, located on the eastern coast of the Big Island, is a popular spot for whale watching. The calm waters and expansive views make it an ideal location to catch a glimpse of humpback whales. Take a stroll along the bayfront or enjoy a picnic in one of the parks while keeping an eye out for these magnificent creatures.

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Kailua-Kona, on the western coast of the island, is another excellent spot for whale watching. From here, you can join a boat tour that will take you out to deeper waters where the whales are most often spotted. The stunning panoramic views of the coastline make this a truly memorable experience.

Mauna Kea Beach

Mauna Kea Beach, also known as Kauna’oa Bay, is a beautiful white sand beach on the Kohala Coast. Not only is it a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing, but it also provides a great vantage point for whale watching. Set up your beach chair, relax, and wait for the show to begin.


The small town of Hawi, located on the northern tip of the island, offers a unique whale watching experience. From the cliffs overlooking the ocean, you can witness the whales from a higher vantage point. This allows for incredible views and the opportunity to observe their behavior from a distance.

Puako Bay

Puako Bay, on the western coast of the Big Island, is another fantastic spot for whale watching. This secluded bay offers calm waters and is known for its abundance of marine life. Rent a kayak or join a guided tour to explore the bay and get a closer look at the humpback whales.

Waikoloa Beach

Waikoloa Beach, located on the Kohala Coast, is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful resorts and stunning beaches. From here, you can take a whale watching tour and enjoy the luxury of spotting these majestic creatures in their natural habitat while soaking up the sun on the golden sand.

Booking a Whale Watching Tour

Researching and Choosing a Tour Operator

When it comes to booking a whale watching tour on the Big Island, it’s crucial to do your research and choose a reputable tour operator. Look for companies with experienced captains and naturalist guides who are knowledgeable about the humpback whales and their behavior. Read reviews from previous customers to get a sense of the quality and reliability of the tour operator.

Types of Whale Watching Tours

There are several types of whale watching tours available on the Big Island, catering to different preferences and budgets. Some tours are operated on large boats, while others offer a more intimate experience on smaller vessels. Additionally, some tours may provide educational commentary on the whales’ behavior and biology, while others focus more on the thrill of whale spotting. Choose a tour that aligns with your interests and comfort level.

What to Expect on a Whale Watching Tour

On a whale watching tour, you can expect to venture out into the open waters, guided by professionals who know the best spots for whale sightings. Most tours provide binoculars and informative commentary about the humpback whales and their habits. You’ll have the opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures breaching, tail slapping, and maybe even hear their haunting songs. Remember to bring your camera to capture these incredible moments!

Preparing for Your Adventure

Understanding Whale Behavior

Before embarking on your whale watching adventure, it’s important to have a basic understanding of whale behavior. Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic displays, such as breaching (jumping out of the water) and tail slapping. They also communicate through songs, which can be heard above and below the water. Knowing these behaviors can help you anticipate and fully appreciate the incredible sights you may witness during your tour.

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Proper Clothing and Equipment

Make sure to dress appropriately for your whale watching tour. The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to layer your clothing. Opt for comfortable clothes that can withstand wind and water splashes. Don’t forget to bring a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s glare. It’s also advisable to wear non-slip shoes, as the deck of the boat can become slippery.

Safety Tips for Whale Watching

While whale watching is an exciting and memorable experience, it’s essential to prioritize safety. Follow the instructions provided by the tour operator and crew at all times. Never lean over the edge of the boat or try to touch the whales. Be mindful of your surroundings and stay seated when the boat is in motion. Remember, the safety of both you and the whales is paramount.

What to Bring


Binoculars are an essential item to bring on your whale watching adventure. They will allow you to get a closer look at the humpback whales and observe their unique features and behaviors. Binoculars with a good magnification and lens quality can greatly enhance your whale watching experience.

Camera and Lenses

Capturing the beauty of humpback whales in photographs is a must during your whale watching tour. Bring a camera with a zoom lens to capture these magnificent creatures up-close. If you have multiple lenses, consider bringing a telephoto lens for those far-off breaches and a wide-angle lens to capture the scenic views around you.

Sunscreen and Hat

Protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays is crucial when spending extended periods of time on the water. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen before your whale watching tour and bring extra to reapply throughout the day. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will provide additional protection for your face and neck.

Snacks and Water

Whale watching tours can be a few hours long, so it’s important to stay hydrated and fueled. Bring snacks and plenty of water to keep yourself refreshed and energized throughout the tour. Opt for lightweight, easy-to-carry snacks that won’t make a mess on the boat.

Sea Sickness Medication

If you’re prone to seasickness, it’s wise to bring some form of medication or remedies to alleviate the symptoms. Consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist for recommended options. Remember to take the medication as directed, preferably before the tour begins, to prevent seasickness from putting a damper on your whale watching experience.

Etiquette and Conservation

Respecting the Marine Environment

When embarking on a whale watching tour, it’s important to respect the marine environment and the creatures that call it home. Avoid throwing any litter or waste into the ocean, as this can harm marine life. Be mindful of the fragility of the ecosystem and do your part to keep it clean and pristine.

Maintaining a Safe Distance

While it’s exciting to witness humpback whales up close, it’s crucial to maintain a safe distance to ensure the well-being of the whales and your own safety. Keep a minimum distance of 100 yards (about the length of a football field) between your boat and the whales. This distance allows the whales to go about their natural behaviors without feeling threatened or disturbed.

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Avoiding Noise Pollution

Whales are highly sensitive to sound, and excessive noise can disturb or disorient them. During your whale watching tour, avoid making loud noises, especially near the whales. Keep conversations at a reasonable volume and turn off or silence electronic devices. This ensures a peaceful environment for both the whales and your fellow passengers.

Leaving No Trace

When enjoying the beauty of nature, it’s crucial to leave no trace. Leave behind only footprints and take with you memories and photographs. Dispose of any trash or waste in designated receptacles and be mindful of the surrounding environment. By practicing responsible tourism, you can help preserve the Big Island’s pristine natural beauty for future generations.

Additional Activities

Exploring Volcanoes National Park

While whale watching is undoubtedly a highlight of any trip to the Big Island, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy as well. One must-visit destination is the Volcanoes National Park, home to the active Kilauea volcano. Explore lava tubes, hike through lava fields, and witness the raw power of nature at this unique national park.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

The Big Island offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in Hawaii. Dive into the crystal-clear waters to discover vibrant coral reefs, colorful fish, and even encounter sea turtles. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a beginner, the underwater world of the Big Island is sure to leave you in awe.

Visiting Beaches and Waterfalls

The Big Island boasts an abundance of stunning beaches and waterfalls just waiting to be explored. Spend a day lounging on the golden sands of Hapuna Beach, or venture off the beaten path to discover hidden gems like Akaka Falls. With its diverse landscapes, the Big Island offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do whale watching tours typically last?

Whale watching tours on the Big Island can vary in duration, but most tours last between two to three hours. Some operators also offer longer tours that include additional activities, such as snorkeling or exploring coastal caves. Be sure to check with the tour operator for the specific duration of the tour you are interested in.

Can I see whales from the shore?

While it is possible to spot whales from the shore on occasion, your chances of seeing them up close and engaging in their behaviors are significantly higher on a dedicated whale watching tour. The tour boats are equipped with experienced guides who know the best spots to find the whales, allowing for a more immersive and memorable experience.

What happens if it rains during the tour?

Weather conditions can change quickly on the Big Island, and it’s not uncommon for rain showers to occur during a whale watching tour. Most tour operators will still proceed with the tour in light rain, as it does not typically affect the whale sightings. However, in the event of severe weather or unsafe sea conditions, the tour may be rescheduled or canceled. It’s always best to check with the tour operator for their specific policy regarding weather-related cancellations.


Whale watching on the Big Island of Hawaii is an unforgettable experience that allows you to witness the beauty and grace of humpback whales in their natural habitat. From the winter whale watching season to the best spots for sightings, this comprehensive guide has provided you with everything you need to know to plan and enjoy your whale watching adventure. Remember to book a tour with a reputable operator, come prepared with the right equipment and clothing, and practice responsible tourism by respecting the whales and the marine environment. So, pack your binoculars, camera, and sense of wonder – the whales are waiting to awe and inspire you on the Big Island!