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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Whale watching in Hawaii – seeing the Humpback whale from the Oahu shore

Probably the only and perhaps the most frustrating element in planning our Hawaiian vacation were locating any decent information on whale watching in Oahu. When I say whale watching, I mean whale watching from the shores of Oahu. There is plenty of information and tour operators wanting to sell you one-hour to half-day excursions to watch the whales from off-shore boats – some of which guarantee a whale sighting or your money back.

There are a few reasons why we wanted to watch the Humpback whales from the Oahu shore. The first of which is that Ashley gets very sea-sick. Regardless of the remedy attempt, the only one that works is Dramamine – meaning she is pretty much out cold for 8 hours. Secondly, rather than making a minimum of a half-day out the trip – we wanted to build some whale watching into our schedule that made sense while we traversed the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

As I mentioned before, information both on the Internet (littered with tour advertisements) and from our favorite guide books were pretty unspecific about where once could whale watch on the shore of Oahu. Luckily, while we were on our site tour at Kualoa Ranch we ran into the group monitoring the behaviors of the Humpback whale. While they had an excellent place that was actually on the property of the Kualoa Ranch, it was actually inaccessible to the public. They recommended that we try either the Makapu’u (Makapuu) Beach or Makapu’u (Makapuu) Point.

The basic theory they mentioned was that you wanted to be at a major point in the island that juts out towards the sea and to be able to achieve some elevation to better see the activities within the pod of whales should you be able to find them. With that in mind, a few key areas around the southern parts of the Oahu island of Hawaii come to mind.

The first is Diamond Head, where folks go November through April to try and catch a glimpse of a Humpback whale. Many have been successful. They only drawback is that because of the length of the climb, you are much higher than you may be at some of the other locations, increasing your distance from the whales.

The second is the area around Hanauma Bay, Halona Blow Hole, and Sandy Beach. On our whale sightseeing day, this proved to be a perfect location for us as we intended to spend our afternoon at Waimanalo beach. Our main stop along this route was the Halona Blow Hole, which overlooks Sandy Beach – a very popular beach stop. Within 15 minutes of our arrival, we had the opportunity to see at least two different whales breech the water approximately one half mile off shore. While it was quicker than expected, it was an amazing sight to see an adult Humpback whale completely launch itself out of the ocean water and then the splash that followed was tremendous. The Halona Blow Hole is a pretty good bet to see the Humpback whale.

Just down the road from the Halona Blow Hole on the other side of Sandy beach is Makapu’u Point, which is a local and veteran whale watchers preferred onshore location to see Humpback whales. The only caveat is that in order to get to the best viewing location you need to hike up the Ka’ Iwi shoreline trail which is paved road trail that rivals the hike to Diamond Head.

Think the road into Hanauma Bay, only about 4 times as long. Plan on a full half an hour to hike up the trail, if you walk pretty closely – and remember to bring your walking shoes. (Ashley and I only had our flip-flops with us and by the time we completed the hike up and down we had some hot spots on our feet – luckily they did not turn into blisters.)

The hike up to Makapu’u Point near the Makapu’u lighthouse is beautiful scenic trail, that by the time you reach the top you will have seen panoramic views of Hanauma Bay/Sandy Beach, the south east point of the island looking towards the Island of Molokai, and a great view down the windward side of Oahu. There are several lookout spots along the way, one that is even marked with a Humpback whale display containing information on the whales.

On most days at these spots you will have the opportunity to spot pods of Humpback whales, breeching, slapping, and blowing in the waters off the shore. Try them all out, preferably in the earlier or later portions of the day for the best viewing and least glare off the water. Good luck!