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Adult males range from 40 to 52 feet and can weigh up to 45 tons. Despite their size, humpback whales are graceful acrobats. Keep your eye on the ocean and you might see one breach, propelling up to 40 percent of its body out of the water and landing on its side with a spectacular splash.
Whales have great cultural significance for Native Hawaiians. They play a large role in Hawaiian legend—including one creation story—and appear in ancient petroglyphs on several islands. The return of the kohola (humpback whale) is considered more of a homecoming than a visit. Humpback whales are born in Hawaiian waters, making them kamaaina (native born). Some Native Hawaiians also believe the whales are aumakua (family guardians), so these gentle giants are treated with great respect.
Cultural Significance of Whales in Hawaii
Although humpback whales can be seen from all of the Hawaiian Islands, the shallow Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai is one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world.
What's the Best Way to See Whales?
You may also spot kohola from the southern shores of Oahu, especially at Makapuu Lighthouse and along the seaside overlooks near Leahi (Diamond Head).
Kauai offers a range of whale-viewing opportunities, including Poipu Beach on the South Shore, Kilauea Lighthouse on the North Shore and Kapaa Overlook on the island’s Coconut Coast.
On the island of Hawaii, whales are often seen along the shores of the Kohala Coast, as well as Hilo Bay on the east side of the island. The Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is another great viewing spot, with its sweeping, elevated views near Kawaihae Harbor. In fact, Puukohola literally means “hill of the whale” in Hawaiian.
Boat tours may be your best option for viewing whales up close. Hawaii has dozens of tour operators, including a few that lead kayak excursions—a thrilling way to experience these majestic mammals.
In respect for the kohola and the safety of sightseers, all watercraft must stay a minimum of 100 yards from the whales, but you'll be surprised how close you feel when a 45-ton behemoth lunges out of the sea. If a boat tour is not for you, the whales’ impressive acrobatic displays are often visible from miles away. If you're on land, keep a pair of binoculars handy because you never know when you'll see a humpback’s spout (which can be 10–20 feet tall).
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Leilani's offers premier oceanfront outdoor seating serving Hawaiian seafood, also steaks, chicken, and lighter fare.
This open-air restaurant offers a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu filled with traditional favorites that are enhanced with local flavors, like the Onolicious French Toast made with Molokai sweet bread and lilikoi butter.
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Burger Shack is a casual, oceanfront hideaway where guests can savor signature burgers, whimsical shakes and a selection of featured cocktails, craft and local beer.
Local favorite ramen chain restaurants! For over 12 years, we server ramen noodles and rice bowls in five major malls in Hawaii. Every pot of our soup is made in-house and cooked for more than 20 hours before serving. We don't use concentrate!
Copper Bar is a place to gather with friends and family to enjoy creative, casual cuisine based on abundance and sharing along with crafted cocktails, beers and wine. Of course, the centerpiece was and remains sweeping views of Kauna'oa Bay that have beckoned travelers for decades.
At Leonard’s Bakery, our baker’s are working around the clock, creating delicious treats. Malasadas are always fresh and ready to be devoured. The Pao Doce sweetbread loaves are baked daily. Visit our flagship store at 933 Kapahulu Avenue.