Whale Watching on Kayak with Hawaiian Paddle Sports
One reason I was so excited to travel to Hawaii this time of year was the opportunity to experience peak whale season. Humpback whales make their migration to Maui and surrounding areas for breeding season but Maui gets a very high density of the traffic due to the ideal condition of the waters.
Let’s review som fun facts about humpback whales in Maui:
- Whale season is December to April – people reported seeing whales as early as October this past year and can sometimes witness then as late as June but it is those whale season months where the density is highest and the ocean is full of whales
- These guys are giant – 60 feet long and up to 40 tons! The tail alone can be 18 feet wide. The females are larger than the males.
- When the humpback spouts through the blow hole, it actually makes a “v” shape – that is because there are actually two blowholes – one for each lung (that is the size of a compact vehicle)
- Whales have distinct markings on the underside of the tail – like a fingerprint – and it is how they are identified and tracked
- Only the males can sing and it is one of the biggest mysteries among the humpbacks – and the song changes every year – and they all sing the same one – mind blown
- These humpbacks come down from Alaska to Maui for breeding and birthing but what is interesting is that they do not eat anything when they are in Maui – nothing – there is no krill in Hawaii to eat – and can lost up to a third of their body weight – sometimes more for females that have the additional need to feed their calf, which is a 12 foot, 2000 pound baby
We have enjoyed our kayaking adventures so much on our previous trips – Maine and Alaska – that we knew we wanted to book one in Hawaii. When we kayaked in Alaska, our guide Emma previously worked some seasons in Maui and was able to give us some great recommendations. One of them was a kayak tour with her alma mater company Hawaiian Paddle Tours. That was an easy lay up!
The company offers several different private kayak excursions. We love that offer private options because we enjoy moving at a faster pace for the workout. Originally I inquired about kayaking to Molokini as it was the most challenging option while the others are listed as easy paddles. I got an email back from the company warning that you had to be a strong kayaker and there was not a guarantee to snorkel depending on the conditions and how quickly you can paddle there. I was not sure if I could classify us as “strong paddlers” since we only seem to do it on vacation and I really wanted to snorkel Molokini so we swapped that option out. They recommended going with the whale watching option that we could include snorkeling on if we wanted and would let the guide know we are down to paddle a healthy distance.
We met our guide, Curtis, who had been living in Maui for years and working with Hawaiian Paddle Sports for a good chunk of that time – I knew we were in good hands! He knew we inquired about the Molokini Challenge and knew we wanted a solid kayak in this morning so we went through some basics about whales and we were off well before our start time – pays to be early!
Our kayak was on just the most beautiful morning. It felt great to be on the water and not be sea sick for once. As we glided on the water, we continued to paddle with little whale action. It was actually beginning to look like this would be a whale-less trip but after seeing the whales yesterday, we were happy to just be kayaking. We turned into the coast in hopes of seeing a mom and calf.
Then Curtis spotted the blow hole. He turned to us – we could be there with ten minutes of solid paddling if the whales stay put. Game time! We paddled and paddled until we reached the whales. A mom and calf, just hanging around. Not moving spots at all. Just popping up for air, the calf curiously flirting with the surface, and the occasional beautiful display of the mom’s tale.
Just magical! It was hard to believe we were within the same waters as these humpback whales. Other groups got wind of the whale sighting and began to join but it did not seem to bother the mom. Then a third whale surfaced – an escort! The three of time danced on the surface of the water until they decided it was time to move.
We spent about a half hour with these whales – while we were never close enough to get a good look at them underwater to appreciate their size, it was the most intimate experience and a very different one from seeing on a boat. While the visibility is not a great from a height perspective, it is definitely a slower and more controlled experience which I enjoyed.
Our kayak ended up being eight miles long – which ironically would have got us to Molokini and back – good to know we could have done it. Curtis was very complimentary and said it would not have been possible to reach these whales if we were not on our “A game” kayaking. Pat on the back to us!
Now it goes without saying that with all nature tours, there is never a guarantee of seeing what you are in search of – weather it be humpback whales or a sunrise at Haleakala. The tour after us ended up seeing no humpback whales – zero! So while we had a very fortunate experience, the guides do their best to provide the best time with their guests and sometimes nature does not always cooperate.