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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).
One of the finest oceanside dining experiences in the islands. Savor the award-winning pacific rim cuisine in an open-air dining room, which offers stunning views from Waikiki Beach. Dinner nightly except Sunday, located in the Rainbow Tower.
Kona Brewing Company's waterfront Koko Marina restaurant serves innovative entrees of local beef and fish, gourmet pizzas, pupus, sandwiches, salads and desserts. All of the brewery's fresh craft beers are available, including several pub exclusives.
Kani Ka Pila Grille, located pool-side at the newly renovated Outrigger Reef on the Beach, serves lunch, dinner and tropical drinks daily, but its real draw is the top-notch live entertainment by some of Hawaii’s greatest island musicians, new local talent and island artists of international renown.
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Roy Yamaguchi’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine blends fresh local ingredients with European sauces and bold Asian spices, always with a focus on seafood. Each evening you’ll find a tantalizing range of appetizers, entrées, fresh fish dishes and desserts.
Guests will enjoy Hawaii's beautiful sunshine and stunning coastal view at the Plumeria Beach House. The restaurant is bathed in warm, natural earth tones reminiscent of a comfortable island home, with indoor and outdoor terraces taking full advantage of breezy trade winds.