Surfing and Whale Watching on Maui

USAEven with a little over two weeks in Hawaii, we still didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything that we wanted. Far from it! We didn’t even hit the ‘biggies’ like Pearl Harbor on Oahu or Haleakala volcano on Maui. We didn’t even go to a Luau (save for the awesome Starlit Hui at Aulani) nor did we visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre. Just more excuses to go back!

We did squeeze a couple of awesome activities into our jam-packed itinerary however, and I’d consider these pretty essential too, when visiting Hawaii – surfing and whale watching!

Back in 2005, when I first visited Hawaii, I had the best whale watching experience of my life – likely never to be repeated. We had visited in February, in peak humpback whale season (the season runs from November-May, normally) and essentially a whale had come and sat underneath our boat for a half hour or so while we snapped photo after photo. It was pretty epic. That was also pre-days of Facebook and keeping all our photos online, so I just have to live with the memory. It’s stuck with me for a long time.

This time we went with lower expectations and, while we didn’t get that same up-close-and-personal encounter, we were still really lucky.

Whale watching in Maui

Whale watching in Maui


At first, it’s hard to look out into the vast expanse of blue ocean and believe that there are several-ton giants swimming all around you – let alone that you will be able to see them. We kept our eyes peeled for their ‘blow’ in the air, or for a rounded, dark back peeking out of the waves. We luckily had a very clear, calm day, and you could see for miles.

Despite the nervous anticipation, we eventually spotted our first whales – a mother and calf! After that initial encounter, we saw many groups of whales, including  a ‘competition’ group (where several males follow a female, in hopes she will pick them.) One even gave us a wave!

Hello, humpback whale!

Hello, humpback whale!

We picked the Pacific Whale Foundation boat to take us out, from Ma’alaea Harbour, and the boat had two very informative naturalists on board. The boat was quite busy, but there was plenty of space on board and lots of room for viewing from every angle. It was also blazing hot out on the water – we were glad we had our hats, and the crew kept us supplied with plenty of ice-cold water. PWF guarantee whale sightings or your money back – no money required from us.

Our next activity was surfing! I’ve attempted surfing before (the key being ‘attempted’) – and the last time I went surfing was in the cold, rough waters of North Devon in a full wetsuit. I… don’t remember standing up on a surfboard in Devon at all, so I wasn’t expecting big things of myself in Maui.

Look Ma, I'm surfing!

Look Ma, I’m surfing!

We booked our trip via an Expedia counter in Lahaina (one of the few activities bookers on the street who didn’t also require a trip around a time share), and we got a good discount on an hour’s group lesson with Maui Wave Riders. Like PWF, Maui Wave Riders offer your money back if you don’t stand up or have fun during your lesson.

Once again, they succeeded! Our instructor was a typical bronzed surfer dude, but his simple instructions had us all standing up on our very first waves. Awesome. I definitely felt like a proper surf chick.

My only comment in the Lahaina location would be that the water was very shallow, and quite rocky underfoot. I ended up with more than a few scrapes on my legs by the end. It was also very crowded with beginner surfers – so while it was good for catching waves, it was bad when you couldn’t steer out of someone’s path. Collision central.

Delicious shaved ice - the perfect Hawaii treat

Delicious shaved ice – the perfect Hawaii treat

After surfing was the perfect time for a nice shaved ice, and a walk around the beautiful Lahaina. I also got to take my mum and sister out to fill up on delicious Star Noodle afterwards – but more on that in the next blog!

The biggest banyan tree in Hawaii!

The biggest banyan tree in Hawaii, in Lahaina town centre.


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