There's no place on Earth like Maui for experiencing the wonder of humpback whales. Jaw-dropping scenery provides an unforgettable backdrop for the 40-ton animals' aquatic acrobatics, which include dramatic breaches, head slaps, tail slaps and more. On Maui, it's not only fun, but easy to watch the whales. Grab a towel, sit on the beach and enjoy the view of whales cavorting offshore--or get a closer look on an affordable two-hour whale watch cruise.
The annual Maui Whale Festival celebrates the whales' presence and the joy they bring to Maui residents and visitors. Hosted by Pacific Whale Foundation with support from Expedia Local Expert, the Maui Whale Festival features more than 15 events held between late January and the end of March.
The weeks ahead bring the peak of whale watch season and the most popular events of the festival. On Saturday, Feb. 16, thousands of Maui residents and visitors will line South Kihei Road at 9 a.m. to view Maui's Parade of Whales, which begins at the corner of Alanui Keali'i Drive and moves northward on South Kihei Road past Kalama Park to Waimaha'iha'i Street.
World Whale Day also includes a carnival for kids plus entertainment just for them.
Photo: Pacific Whale Foundation
Immediately afterward, the fun shifts to Kalama Park for the opening ceremonies of World Whale Day at 10 a.m. A community event, World Whale Day is free and open to all. The day will begin with a hula performance by Manute'a Nui E leading off a full day of musical entertainment on two stages by some of Hawai'i's top recording and performing artists, including Kalapana, Willie K, Ekolu, Erin Smith and the Throwdowns, Marty Dread, Ekolu Kalama with the KPOA Maui Allstar Band (which includes DJs and musicians Alaka'i Paleka, Shane Kahalehale and Kaena Brown).
World Whale Day also includes a carnival for kids, plus entertainment just for them, displays about the environment, food by local eateries and an artisans' fair, where you can purchase made-on-Maui crafts. Because the day ends at 7 p.m., you can enjoy dinner at the park at sunset while taking in the live music.
Other events of the Maui Whale Festival include a special whale watch cruise on Sunday, Feb.17, led by Greg Kaufman, the founder of Pacific Whale Foundation and author of four books and numerous scientific publications about whales based on his nearly four decades of studying them in the wild. For information and reservations, visit www.pacificwhale.org or call (808) 249-8811, ext. 1.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, citizen volunteers will be posted at observation stations along Maui's shorelines to count humpback whales as part of the annual Great Whale Count, led by Pacific Whale Foundation's research team. The festival also includes whale watch hikes on March 7 and 21 and Pacific Whale Foundation's Evening with the Experts on March 16.
The Photo Tribute to the Whales is a free exhibit of stunning whale photography that is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Ma'alaea Harbor Shops.
Through late April, the "Trail of the Whale" includes four locations on Maui, where you'll find an expert Pacific Whale Foundation naturalist stationed to help you locate and learn about whales. The locations are Papawai Point, which is the scenic overlook located about three miles northwest of Ma'alaea on the Honoapi'ilani Highway (Route 30); the ocean path by the Wailea Marriott Resort and Spa; the ocean path at the Marriott Maui Ocean Club on Ka'anapali Beach; and the upper open air deck at Fleetwood's on Front Street in Lahaina.
Visit www.mauiwhalefestival.org for times and dates for each location, and for other details about the Maui Whale Festival.
To learn more about Pacific Whale Foundation and arrange for a whale watch cruise, check out www.pacificwhale.org.