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Every winter thousands upon thousands of whales come to Hawaii’s warm waters, much like the islands’ human visitors! The Garden Isle is no exception. Humpbacks begin arriving to Kauai in December and stay to give birth, calf, and play until March when they start to head north again.
The best way to see these gentle giants is on a whale watching tour, although it’s also possible from the shore! Kauai can be a bit more tricky when it comes to spotting humpbacks and official whale counts show that this island has a bit lower numbers of whale sightings overall than some of the other islands. This only makes spotting these beautiful marine creatures even more thrilling and special.
Here’s our guide to the best Kauai whale watching tours and where to go if you want to see them from shore!
Want to cut to the chase? Book the best Kauai whale watching tours:
Kauai Zodiac Tourz: 14 passenger raft, departs from Poipu, prepare for an adventure!
Captain J’s: 28 passenger super raft (more like a boat), leaves from Port Allen
Kauai Sea Tours: Cocktail tour: 28 passenger catamaran with drinks; Raft tour: 12 passenger raft, both tours depart from Port Allen
Kauai Whale Watching FAQs
When is the Kauai whale watching season?
The peak of the whale watching season in Hawaii officially runs from December to March. It is possible to start seeing whales as early as September and as late as May. You’ll see that most whale watching tours start in December and end in March, whether or not the whales have decided to arrive early or stay late.
What time of day is best for whale watching on Kauai?
Luckily, whales can be active at any time of day! There’s no specific time window that is particularly best to see whales.
Our favorite time of day to book a whale watching tour is in the morning as ocean conditions are typically more calm and the heat of the day is a few hours away. The trade winds also start to pick up in the afternoon.
What month is best for whale watching on Kauai?
The Sanctuary Ocean Count takes place on the Hawaiian Islands every year from January to March and has volunteers count whales. This is a great snapshot of the humpback population and how many cetacean visitors each island is getting every year.
In 2023, the best month according to the official whale count for Kauai was March (3.4 whales per 15-minute count period), but in 2022 it was January. Numbers fluctuate each year and there’s no guarantee that one month will be better than the other. If you’re curious, you can find all of the data on whale counts here.
As you can see, it really just depends on the year!
Learn more about Hawaii in the winter and what to know before you book your trip.
What is the best place to see whales on Kauai?
Did you know that it’s possible to see whales from the shore in Hawaii? You could be enjoying a beach day and casually spot whales breaching, tail flipping, and spouting. Pretty incredible! There are a few places on Kauai that are your best bet for seeing whales from the shore.
The Kīlauea Lighthouse on Kauai’s North Shore is a great place to spot whales and simply a cool viewing point even if they don’t show up. Kapa’a Lookout and Ninini Point are two options on the eastern side of the island.
Find a great place to stay on Kauai:
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How much is a whale watching tour on Kauai?
Whale watching tours on Kauai are generally similar in price. Tickets for adults range anywhere from $109 to $125 while children can range from $85 to $105. Private tours are also available although these are much more pricey.
Is a whale watching tour worth it on Kauai?
Honestly, we’re on the fence. It’s your best chance to get up close to a humpback whale and it’s always fun to get out on a boat on the water. But there are plenty of tours that don’t see whales or don’t have many close encounters. We’ve enjoyed the tours we’ve done, but we go out with the expectation that we might not see whales or see them up close. If you’re really set on an incredible whale watching experience, your best bet is to head to Maui.
Keep in mind that boats need to keep a 100-yard distance away from humpback whales by law. What most boats do is head to an area where they expect whales to be present and turn off the engines. They cannot drive up next to whales for safety concerns. However, a whale may decide to approach the boat on its own – a thrilling experience!
Because it can be a little more difficult to find whales in the water surrounding Kauai, most tours don’t have guaranteed sightings and won’t rebook your whale watching tour if you don’t see them. While this might be a little bit disappointing, try to keep an open mind. There’s still the chance to see dolphins and other marine life like sea turtles if the whales don’t make an appearance!
The 3 Best Kauai Whale Watching Tours
1. Raft Tour from Poipu (South Shore)
You’ll be immersed in the ocean environment on this fast-paced whale watching tour! Kauai Zodiac Tourz has two 25’ Rigid Hull Zodiac boats that they use for their tours, giving whale watching hopefuls an exhilarating ride in search of humpbacks. A ride on board this zodiac is truly an adventure. There’s no shade or bathrooms on board, just you, your fellow passengers, and the open ocean.
Splashes are almost a guarantee as you’ll be close to the water – but that’s half the fun! This proximity to the water’s surface means that if the whales do come close, you’re going to have an incredible encounter. They also use a hydrophone for capturing whale songs beneath the surface.
Kauai Zodiac Tourz are a more intimate experience as the boat can only hold up to 14 passengers. You’ll hop aboard at the Small Boat Harbor in town. Fruit juice, water, and light snacks are provided. Because of the fast nature zodiac, this tour isn’t suitable for children under 5 or pregnant women.
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Captain J’s Offshore Adventures
Captain J’s Offshore Adventures offers two afternoon whale watching tours on their 37’ Super Raft Kauai Voyager 1. Although many trips head towards the beautiful NaPali Coast, Captain J’s sets off toward the calmer waters off of Poipu and southern Kauai.
Space onboard the Super Raft is similar to what you’d expect on a catamaran. The difference is in its agility which is more like a zodiac. The Super Raft can hold up to 28 people and is a bit more cushy than zodiac boats in that it has bathrooms on board and plenty of shade. A viewing deck provides unparalleled views of the whales, breaching and tail flipping. They also bring a hydrophone to hear the beautiful whale songs.
This tour leaves from Port Allen Harbor and light snacks and drinks are provided. Captain J’s offers the best value ticket price for children at just $85. This is a great savings considering that most charge over $100. Unfortunately, the boat isn’t accessible for children under 5 or pregnant women as it can get bumpy. This tour is also awesome for sunsets!
Kauai Sea Tours
Kauai Sea Tours offers two different whale watching tours, the ‘Imiloa Whale Watching Cocktail Tour and the Whale Watching Discovery Rafting Tour. All of their tours take off from the Port Allen Marina, only a 20-minute drive from Poipu.
The ‘Imiloa Whale Watching Cocktail Tour sails along Kauai’s southern coast on their 40’ express catamaran. This is a cushy ride with padded, forward-facing seats and an awning that provides full shade from the intense Hawaiian sun. There are also two bathrooms onboard. Beer, wine, and Mai Tai’s are on the menu, as well as soft drinks, juice, water, and snacks. Aside from searching for whales, the captain will also regale you with stories and tales of Kauai.
The Whale Watching Discovery Rafting Tour takes off in the Rigid Hull Inflatable Raft. This is definitely a more adventurous option when compared to their Cocktail Tour as these are the same boats used by Navy Seals! This is a wonderful option if you want to be close to the water and the action should the whales approach the boat. Snacks, water, and soft drinks are also provided.
Whale Watching on Kauai tips
Seeking out whales on your trip to Kauai can be an unforgettable experience. With a few tips and tricks, you’ll have a wonderful time watching the humpbacks. Here’s what we recommend to make your tour even more memorable:
1. Most Kauai whale watching tours don’t offer rebooking.
You’ll notice that many whale watching tours on islands like Oahu and Maui offer free rebooking if you don’t see whales. This can be a little tricky on Kauai. While there’s a good chance that you will see whales in the ocean off Kauai from December to March, it’s not guaranteed as it generally is on islands like Maui. Free rebooking generally isn’t offered because it’s a bit more likely that you won’t see whales.
2. Book your whale watching tour early in your trip.
Booking your whale watching tour in the first few days of your trip ensures that you have a larger window of time to potentially book another whale watching tour if you’re really itching to see them (we don’t blame you!). Having the option to book a second chance tour is also a good idea because you can try out a different tour on another part of the island.
Keep in mind that even if there aren’t any whales, there will probably be other beautiful sea creatures like dolphins and sea turtles. If for some reason you don’t end up seeing whales on your whale watching adventure, head to one of our recommended spots on Kauai to see them from land!
3. Go in the morning.
While there’s no “best” time to see whales, we highly recommend going in the morning. Not only will you be spared from the (sometimes) searing Hawaiian sun, but these tours are more likely to be less full. Afternoons also mean that the tradewinds will likely start to blow and the water can get a bit more choppy.
4. Research your vessel ahead of time.
Be sure to research the vessel of your whale watching tour ahead of time. They range widely from fast and furious zodiacs to slow-moving catamarans. If you’re more prone to seasickness, this can be a major factor in whether or not you have a good time. Those with children or who are pregnant will also need to be extra careful which tour they book as some won’t be suitable.
While that fast and fun tour on a zodiac might sound like a great time, it truly is for the adventurous at heart. At the same time, those who are looking for an exhilarating adventure might not have as much fun on a more sultry cruise onboard a big catamaran.
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