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Travel Log: Whale Watching in Maui

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

When we made the decision to go to Maui, Hawaii for my birthday in January 2018, one of the main priorities while we were there was to get ourselves onto a whale watching trip. January is right in the middle of winter in Hawaii, and that means the main whale season for Maui. The whales migrate to the warm waters of Maui from Alaska once it becomes too cold. Expectant mothers migrate so that their newborn calves can be born in the safer and warmer waters of Maui. Although humpbacks from Alaska will also migrate to Mexico and the islands of the western Pacific, the majority of North Pacific humpback whales choose to spend their winters in Maui.

The fact we wanted to see whales really did dictate where we would be staying during our trip. The best viewing spots in the world to see whales is the shallow Auau Channel between West Maui (Lahaina and Kaanapali), Lanai and Molokai - so Lahaina it was!

There are loads of different companies you can go out on a whale watch with from Lahaina, and so the next challenge was to decide who to book with! To spread the cost of our holiday, we booked all of the excursions or activities in advance, and so back on October 2017, I was busy researching the best company to go on a whale watch with.

I came across Ultimate Whale Watching & Snorkel through Google, and started following them on Facebook and Instagram. I like it when a company is active on social media as it means I can get a little insight into what they offer, who they are and also see what our money is going towards. Their tag line is: Small Groups. Big Fun and you can get the sense of this immediately from their social media presence.

All of the tours offered by Ultimate are on rafting vessels which are low to the water and perfect for close encounters and small groups and make every seat a front row seat! This really appealed to us as having such a small vessel and group size would give us a much more close-up experience. We really didn't want to be on a big boat with a load of other people!! One of the other things that appealed was the fact that all of the tickets sold go towards whale research.

The company offer a number of different whale watching packages between December and April and they all came with a guarantee.

1.5-hour whale watch

The 1.5-hour tour is a discounted trip for guests who have a busy vacation schedule but still, want to squeeze in time with the whales. The trip costs $35+ tax for adults.

2-hour whale watch

The 2-hour small group whale watching tour is their most popular whale watching tour. The trip costs $54 + tax for adults.

2hr VIP whale watch

2-hour tour is for a smaller group than the other other tours and allows even more opportunities to get the best view. It includes drinks and the famous Maui banana bread! Mmmm. The trip costs $80+ tax for all.

3-hour Photo watch

This tour is catered around the requests from professional photographers, fewer people and more time. The times of tour and boat are manoeuvred to provide the best photo scenarios and most dynamic lighting scenarios. Professional whale photography tips & access to the water for underwater photo or video is available. The trip costs $89+ tax for all.

We opted for the most popular 2-hour whale watch on the second day of our holiday and booked it all online through the website. Super simple and almost instant confirmation and instructions on what to do when we arrived in Maui straight into my inbox! Honestly didn't know how we would ever contain ourselves for the 3 months we had to wait!!

When we arrived in Lahaina, we headed down to the harbour to make sure we knew where to get the boat from the next day. Very easy to locate and due to superb planning on my part (ahem), very close to our accommodation! Win.

We had picked a morning trip, and bright and early the next morning, we headed to slip #17 at Lahaina Harbour. We got there about half an hour early and checked in at the desk, our booking was found quickly and we were given a red boarding card (Number 4). When it was time to start our tour we were greeted by Gabe, our captain for the trip and Sarah the naturalist who would be accompanying us. We had a quick safety chat and were told more about the format of the coming 2 hours, we were then boarded in order of our tickets. As I climbed onto the boat I saw immediately what they meant by all seats being a front row seat - I was very happy to find there were actual seats on the boat and that I didn't have to sit on the sides - I must admit to being a little nervous of that idea.

The weather was absolutely glorious and as we headed out of the harbour, I couldn't help but look back towards the island and gasp. Maui is absolutely breathtaking and seeing it from the sea was just incredible.

Gabe and Sarah were incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area and about the whales and it wasn't long before we were in the company of these magnificent creatures. We were able to see a number of whales during our trip and each encounter was pretty spectacular. The whales are protected by federal law which means you cannot approach Humpback Whales within 100 yards. However, if the whales swam over to us it was absolutely fine and swim over to us they did - we saw many off in the distance and Gabe brought us in as close as he could. A great thing about the smaller vessel was that it was non-threatening, which encouraged the whales to swim right up to the boat and check us out! I couldn't believe how close they got; even swimming under and alongside the boat!! Gabe's experience with the whales was obvious and he knew when to wait and when to move on to find more. Sarah's expertise and the information she provided, helped us to understand what the whales were doing and why.

We saw tail throws, pectoral slaps, spy hops (head out of the water) and plenty of mugging (approaching our boat themselves). The highlight of course the glorious breaching. We were so lucky to see so much activity and so many whales! Whole experience blew me away and left me pretty speechless. I didn't want the trip to end!!

Overall, I'd say the whale watching trip was one of the highlights of our holiday and I would definitely do it again, and I would obviously go back and do it with Ultimate. Yes, the trip is a little more expensive than some of the others, but you get a lot closer, in a much smaller boat with a lot less people plus you have the expertise of a fantastic crew. It was certainly worth the cost and the effort I put in to researching and finding the perfect whale watching crew!

If you would like to find out more about Ultimate Whale Watching & Snorkel you can visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram ... although I am considering unfollowing them now because every time they post a photo, I want to go back there desperately!!! Absolutely amazing experience and an absolute must when visiting Maui.

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