by A.R. Royo
Humpback Whale Watching in Hawaii
Humpback whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, swimming up to 5,000 miles from their Alaskan summer feeding areas to Hawaii’s breeding grounds and back. While in Hawaii, Humpback whales undergo prolonged periods of fasting and have completely separated feeding from breeding and calving activities during the winter
The Hawaiian Islands comprise the largest known reproductive assembly of Humpback Whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Each winter, the islands become home to 8,000-12,000 humpbacks, making the tropical, clear, shallow, and protected waters of Hawaii one of the best natural laboratories in the world to study humpbacks and similarly, to book a whale watch.
During the winter months, between mid-December through mid-April, Humpback whales are distributed throughout the waters around Hawaii, but the highest concentration occurs in the four-island region of Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe.
The waters off West Maui have long been the favorite vacation spot for the massive marine mammals, Humpback Whales. This is what makes Maui one of the best spots in the world to take a Maui whale watching tour. And if you are going to be in the best place at the best time of year for whale watching, then why not sail with the best boat, crew and tour as well?
The Luxury Ali’i Nui Catamaran
So that’s what we did last month, booked a whale watching tour on Maui Dive Shop’s Ali’i Nui, out of Ma’alaea Harbor on West Maui. Aptly named, for in the Hawaiian language, the phrase Ali’i Nui means “Highest of Royalty” a description that couldn’t be any more apt.
For upon boarding board the Ali’i Nui, we notice 9immediately that this isn’t just your average catamaran, but truly a luxury craft, and once underway, luxury service creating a luxury experience as well.
The new Ali’i Nui is a custom-built, one-of-a-kind, luxury sailing catamaran. Measuring 65 feet from stem to stern and 36 feet port to starboard, it is the premiere sailing vessel docked at Ma’alaea Harbor. It is also one of the most elegant, comfortable and fun ways to see whales in Hawaii, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Ali’i Nui whale tours have a well-earned reputation for providing the ultimate in service, space, comfort and amenities. With a maximum capacity of 80, the number of passengers is usually about 40 to provide plenty of room to relax and enjoy.
It has easy access into the water from the bow and stern (for snorkeling) with a friendly, professional crew who were zealous in helping us every step of the way, from boarding to making sure our drinks and our tummies were never empty! The covered cabin is equipped with ample seating and 8 tables. There are two over-sized restrooms (heads) on board as well.
All On Board for Fun, Food, Drink and Excitement
From the time Captain Kaveka checked us in at the dock, and we boarded, until we disembarked full and happy 2 hours later, we were at the mercy of a 6-person crew who went overboard (well, not literally) to attend to our every need.
There is plenty of deck space and multiple trampolines (hammock-like lounging) that ensure plenty of room to kick back and stretch out under the spectacular Maui sun out while waiting for the first whale encounter. Or if you are like us and prefer being in the shade, out of the wind and sun, there is plenty of seating under a spacious, covered cabin. Conveniently, this is also where all the sumptuous food and elegant drinks became available as soon as we motored out of the harbor.
But first, we received an orientation and safety instructions from Captain Kaveka, who introduced his top-notch, expert crew, who were experienced, fun and very helpful – always offering assistance to make your experience an excellent and memorable experience. Included on the crew is a marine biologist with in-depth, never-ending narration by the boat’s trained crew.
First-Class Grinds & Grog
Enjoy an array of Maui’s favorite pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers), Imported and Domestic Beer, Red & White Wine, Champagne, Sodas, Juices & Filtered Water while watching the whales play. A marine naturalist is always on board with facts about these gentle giants. A hydrophone will allow you to listen to the amazing songs the humpback whales sing; Maui’s best “Whale Karaoke.” Our whale watch will run seven days a week from mid December until the whales go home.
To quench our thirst and appetite, Ali’i Nui offered a fabulous selection of drinks and food served on the Captain’s Table in the spacious, covered cabin. Mai Tai’s are always a favorite, but there was also selection of red white wine, champagne, both imported and domestic beer, plus premium liquors, soda and juice.
Unlike most tours where the crew may mix a large jug of Mai Tai’s from inexpensive ingredients with a two-drink maximum, on the Ali’i Nui we were plied with any custom cocktails we desired (I even noted the bottle of Bombay gin, which you won’t find on most tours, I assure you).
The array of pupus (appetizers) is also a cut or two above what you will get on other whale watch tours. And while they may vary from tour to tour or month to month, it includes copious quantities of very tasty comestibles:
- Roasted Pepper & Garlic Hummus & Pita Bread
- Marinated Sliced Breast of Chicken
- BBQ Pulled Pork with Rolls
- Caprese skewers (mozzarella/tomato/basil)
- Cucumber/salmon canapés
- Zesty Pasta Salad
- Caesar Salad Wraps
- Crudités of Island Vegetables and Spinach Dip
- Assortment of Cheese and Crackers
- Tropical Fruit Platter
Humpack Whales Ho!
But enough about the boat and the food and the drink! “What about the Whales?” you might ask. So we cast off, and less than five minutes after leaving the harbor, before we even have a chance to hoist the sails, we come upon a mother and calf Humpbacks frolicking together. The captain kills the motor so we don’t approach too close (100 yards is the legal limit).
For the next 30 minutes, the frolicking pair keeps us enthralled with all manner of aquatic antics. They manage to completely circle the boat during this time, breaching, spouting, tail slapping and pedicle slapping. After awhile it appears that the mother is teaching the calf, and the calf is imitating her moves.
When finally they move off, the wind has picked up considerably. One of the great features of Ali’i Nui is that being under sail, were not distracted by the loud noise of an engine and the smell of diesel fuel. But on some days when there is either no wind or too much wind (like we experienced) the sail is never hoisted. Even so, the engine is very quiet with no trace of diesel fuel smell.
Anyway, we head west along Maui’s Coast and encounter another large, lone whale alternately surfacing, diving and occasionally breaching. Fact is, in the next 90 minutes at sea, it becomes quite obvious that it was impossible to NOT to see whales, just about everywhere we looked!
So if you want a truly fantastic, first-class, luxury whale watching experience, you won’t find a better tour than the Ali’i Nui, in the tropical warm waters off Maui between December and April.