By Sharon Lockwood
Maui is a fantastic place to go if you want to do some serious whale watching. Hawaii is the only place where humpback whales mate, calve and nurse their young. And the months of February and March are the best time for viewing these giants, particularly around the west coast of Maui as the whales make their way from Alaska.
Ryan and I booked a trip to Maui with our friends in mid February and were extremely excited, as this was an extra activity that we hadn’t really planned on. Maui has so much to offer during the day, but if it is night life you are planning on, this probably isn’t the island for you.
Taking a helicopter tour, the scenery was absolutely surreal as we soared over rainforests rich with lush green canyons, descending for a breath-taking view of some of the most spectacular waterfalls you will ever find anywhere in the world. Making our way along the coastline, the coral beneath the surface brought out the most vibrant blue and green hues I have ever seen. As we flew across the ocean to Molokai, there in the midst of the channel a whale was as clear and graceful as could be seen from above, at least a 50-tonne marvel of colossal size and, to put it in perspective, longer and much more than twice the weight of a Greyhound bus.
While the others snorkelled in front of our condo one afternoon, I strolled along the beach, spotting a whale blowing in the distance. Zooming in with my camera for a closer look, a pod of whales began breaching, one after the other, at least 10 sequential breaches in succession, sometimes two in the air simultaneously, then nearby three more breaches from another pod. What a display!
The view from our “ocean view” balcony was very disappointing, so we would go to our friend’s room when we needed another whale watching fix. Ryan and Dave are big camera fanatics, so would pull out the big camera lenses to photograph the whales from the balcony while Carol and I sat with a glass of wine taking it all in.
The best surprise however, was still to come. I had booked a whale watching tour for 7 a.m. As we drove to the boat dock in Lahaina the sky was changing from a midnight blue to sky blue, a beautiful day in the making. With no shortage of tourists that day, we were packed onto the Whale Watching Cruise boat like sardines. With calm waters, it was full steam ahead, and we were on the look out for whales. It didn’t take long, but it was difficult to know where to look, as the whales were in all directions, swimming in twos, threes, and pods of up to five, spouting from the top of their giant heads. Suddenly, I saw a tail slap, then oohs and aahs from the tourists as a whale breached on the far side of the boat. At first, no matter where I looked, a whale would breach behind me and I would miss it, then all of a sudden another was breaching alongside a calf. Oh man, I thought, how am I going to get a shot of these gorgeous creatures hurling their 40-60 ton bodies out of the water when I can’t predict where one will pop up next? As I followed a pod with my movie camera, more oohs and aahs ensued and I quickly turned my camera toward the hoopla to catch the final spectacle of a whale breaching about 61 metres from the bow of the boat. The impact was colossal as it parted the sea and I couldn’t help think Moses couldn’t have done it any better. Ryan, fortunate to have his camera aimed in the right place at the right time captured several detailed shots of this amazing creature breaching over another whale. Then just off the side of our boat I captured the spy hop, so graceful, and as inconspicuous as an elephant trying to hide behind a blade of grass, as it raised its massive head and body straight up and out of the water then straight back down, disappearing as quickly as it appeared.
For the next hour and a half we watched countless whales perform for us, displaying their chin slaps, tail slaps, breaches, spy hops and fluke slaps. Although they were performing for other whales, it somehow seemed to us they were performing just for our benefit.
To end our journey, we finished off with a sunset dinner cruise, fortunate to witness one final performance. Fifteen metres off the bow, a whale swam along side giving us a tail slap, as if to say good bye. The grand slam event; a whale breached 30 metres from where we were sitting, pounding with so much force we were certain we would have a bath with dinner.
With so much excitement around us, our dinners were getting cold, but the food was so delectable it didn’t really matter. Our salad, topped with papaya seed dressing was to die for, our Mahi mahi and prime rib cooked to perfection, and the desert was superb and our complimentary Mai Tai, an extra touch. It was everything we hoped it would be and more our last night in Maui.
As the sun began to set behind the island of Molokai, a sailboat crossed our path in front of the sun, giving it a beautiful silhouette affect. Perfect.
What an amazing ending to an extraordinary experience and although whale watching was not the main reason for going to Maui, it quickly became the highlight of our trip; one we won’t soon forget.