Whale Watching off the Nā Pali Coast, Hawaii

Traveling with Alice

Kauai’s Na Pali Coast from the WaterCaleb Fisher/Unsplash

Located along Kauai’s remote north shore, the Nā Pali Coast is an awe-inspiring 6,175 acres state park isolated from civilization that remained as it was many centuries ago.

Practically inaccessible to vehicular traffic, the Nā Pali Coast is ideal for adventurous hikers and campers. However, to truly appreciate the clear-cut view of the famous and breathtaking cliffs, your best bet is to travel by helicopter or boat.

If you can cruise along the 15-mile stretch of Nā Pali Coastline, you will witness an incredible view of the stunning 4,000-foot cliffs. The area was named for these rugged cliffs, as “pali” is the Hawaiian word for “cliffs.”

You will see these cliffs rising abruptly from the Pacific Ocean as you near the coastline, occasionally giving way to gaps and revealing vast stretches of golden sand, deep jungle valleys, and the mysterious sea caves between.

When to go to Kauai for whale watching

Winter is the best time to go on a cruise up and down the Nā Pali Coast, as that is when the humpback whales visit the Kauai waters. The whale watching season in Kauai runs from November through March, but the best months to spot whales are January and February.

If you take a chartered ship, your captain will likely know exactly where these fantastic sea creatures can be seen. Indeed fortunate sight-seekers will have the opportunity to take pictures and enjoy a spectacular show by these playful creatures of the deep as they perform with sea turtles, dolphins, and other oceanic creatures.

Humpback whales can measure 40 feet in length and can weigh up to 85,000 pounds. The fifth-largest of the world’s greatest whales, humpbacks are seen only in Hawaii over the winter months. Federal law protects these fantastic creatures, so their population is rising.

Whale watching tours

Plan a tour of the Nā Pali Coast during humpback season, and you’re sure to witness a fantastic spectacle of nature.

Na Pali boat tours are not necessarily restricted to the coastline. Both Hanakapiai and Kalalau Beach are well-known Nā Pali Coast State Park destinations. You can also visit the famous Arch of Honopu or the stunning jagged cliffs of Nualolo and Milolii.

Depending on your itinerary and how adventurous you feel, the tour options you choose can be as wildly exciting as the Nā Pali coastline itself. Most boat companies launch their charter tours from west side harbors.

However, you can choose to sail from the picturesque town of Hanalei if opting for one of the smaller companies. Cruises to Ni’ihau are also available, providing you the opportunity to stop for a bit of snorkeling and scuba diving.

Whale Breaching HawaiiJoshua Sukoff/Unsplash

Tips to successful Kauai whale watching tour

- Choose a professional boat company with a captain who knows where to find the whales and, more importantly, respects the safety and environment of the whales.

- Catamarans, cruise vessels, sailboats, and rubber zodiac rafts are all excellent choices for whale watching.

- Bring your camera so that you can take pictures as a reminder of this incredible sight. Consider bringing waterproof cameras since you could be in for a wet ride, especially if you’ll be riding in the bow area of the boat.

- Binoculars give you a closer observation of whales, but they can be tricky to use if the water is rough. Your best bet for binoculars is to choose a pair with 8 x 40 or 7 x 50 dimensions.

- Keep a keen eye. You could see spinner dolphins, sea turtles, albatross, and other sea birds and animals, in addition to humpback whales.

- Dress accordingly. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Remember, you’ll be in a boat, so be prepared to get wet. If you decide to bring extra clothes to change into, make sure you keep them in a waterproof bag.

- If you are prone to motion sickness, be sure to take motion sickness prevention medication as recommended by your doctor. Your trip will likely include the North Shore, where winter waves can swell to 10-30 feet so that the ride can get very bumpy at higher speeds.

Traveling is a great way to witness nature’s most impressive sites firsthand, but truly adventurous travelers go to where others only dream of. When planning your next journey, plan on cruising the Na Pali coastline with humpback whales. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.

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