5 Fun Whale Watching Tours in Kona & The Big Island

by Cedric Pentonville  |  Published August 6, 2021

The Pacific Ocean around the islands of Hawaii teem with marine life, and dozens of boat tours offer a unique way to view the stars of the show: the humpback whales.

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Every year, between November and April, humpback whales migrate to the waters around Hawaii to mate and calve. These remarkably acrobatic mammals can occasionally be seen from the shore of various points on Hawaii’s Big Island, including Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. But nothing gives you the same thrill as the close encounters one can experience on a whale watching trip. Here are five fun boat tours from various points on the Big Island, including from the cities of Kailua-Kona and Hilo.

Whale Watching on the Big Island

Not only does this tour take you to some of the best-known breeding grounds of the marvelous humpback whales, but the on-board hydrophone offers you a chance to hear their plaintive song as well. The catamaran can hold up to 24 people and fares well in most weather. As with all nature tours, whale sightings are not guaranteed, but the experienced and knowledgeable crew always do their best to get you up close without disrupting the animals. These two-hour tours depart daily from Kailua-Kona during the whale-watching season. Bottled water and light refreshments are also provided. From $86 per person.

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Kailua-Kona Humpback Whale Adventure Cruise

(Photo: Getyourguide.com)

It’s not only the humpback whales that are gracing the Pacific waters around the Big Island: you may also get the chance to see dolphins and turtles on this boat tour, which departs once a day at 1pm from Thur-Tue during peak whale season. And this tour comes with a rather ambitious whale sighting guarantee. Although lasting slightly longer at 2.5 hours, nature does its own thing and if you do fail to spot any whales, you can cruise again for free. From $106 per person.

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Mid-Morning Whale Watch

Get a nice, early start to your day and be out on the open ocean by 9.30am to catch the humpback whales about their business. Ocean Sports have been running whale watching tours in Hawaii for over forty years, which means a good amount of local knowledge and expertise goes into these cruises. You’ll benefit from the experience of an on-board marine naturalist, get plenty of good photo opportunities, and there’s a chance to upgrade your tour to a snorkel or sunset cruise as well for an additional fee. From $107 per person.

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Zodiac Raft Whale Watching Adventure

Another excellent whale watching tour departing from Kona, and one of the most consistently top-rated options, takes place aboard the 16-person Zodiac raft. Being aboard a much smaller vessel means you can practically touch the water. When the whales breach, they are often so much closer to you than if you were aboard a larger vessel. There’s no better or closer way to experience the humpbacks while maintaining the legal distance of 100 feet (30m) from these gentle mammals to ensure their wellbeing. These tours run Mon, Tue and Thur-Sat each week during the whale watching season. From $114 per person.

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Historical Hawaii Afternoon Tour from Hilo

For those staying on the east coast of the Big Island, there’s a cruise option departing from Hilo that will give guests the opportunity to spot both turtles and humpback whales (during the Nov-Apr viewing season). This boat tour also explores the remarkable waterfalls and cliffs of the Hamakua coastline. Listen to your captain’s narration about the regional culture and history while keeping an eye out for turtles and whales. This tour runs throughout the year, focusing more on the natural scenery and history outside of whale watching season. From $154 per person.

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