Whale Watching on the Pacific Ocean–a splendid idea if you don’t get seasick!

I’m delighted to share more photos from our recent family time on Kauai, geologically the oldest of the main Hawaiian islands. Did you notice how I just slipped in one more little island fact? Prior to our travel I had very little time to do the background research I enjoy. I have learned so much more since our return home that I hope I might have another chance to visit Kauai.


Hanalei Bay

While the majority of the time was spent enjoying the beauty and leisure of Hanalei Bay, we did arrange for a few island adventures.  This year’s whale migration has been very observable even from our Southern California perch. In December and January of this year a record number of sightings were recorded off the coast of Long Beach. Orcas, Humpbacks, Sperm Whales and even Fin Whales were spotted in record number. Speculation is that global climate change could be bringing more food to the area.

Humpback Whales leave Alaska in the fall and swim for six to eight weeks before reaching the Hawaiian Islands for their winter breeding.  Congress recognized the important Hawaiian habitat (1992) as critical in protecting the breeding grounds of this endangered species, and we were excited to share this experience as a family.

As we pulled into the  parking lot of the Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor on the east side of Kauai, I casually snapped this picture and posted to Facebook something about hoping our sea-worthy vessel was larger than these.


My previous whale watching experiences were on vessels between 70 and 80 feet, and even in those large boats the roll, pitch and yaw sent nearly everyone to the rails at least once!


When you think of the vast Pacific Ocean, this does look small, doesn’t it?

I swallowed my concern as we boarded the “UFO,” a 28-foot Coast Guard certified power catamaran, very hopeful that we’d have success.


And off we went.



Our Captain, Steven, and First Mate, Tyler, informed us that the waves were a little rough, but I already knew this by the sound of several of our “team” desperately hugging the rails!


In this instance I think distraction kept me from feeling ill.  I was deeply focused on the three, five and seven year-old who were handling the bounce-over-the waves better than many of the adults, but I did have a thought that perhaps we should be sitting on them to guarantee they weren’t jettisoned.

And then I saw a humpback whale breach, launching out of the water in the most spectacular display, and it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by the most glorious whale activity.

The photos aren’t wonderful, but the experience was thrilling! I was so happy that the children were enjoying this exceptional experience. We have spent many happy days at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific , and it’s always a challenge to pry Sophia and Karina away from the interactive station dedicated to whale song.

The Aquarium places great emphasis on teaching children (and adults) about these magnificent mammals, and I was thrilled to think they could see them in their natural habitat. What an opportunity.

After about 90 minutes of exploration we headed in a different direction to have some lunch and perhaps take a swim.

The movie “The Descendants” was filmed on Kauai and our guides informed us that this cove and stretch of shoreline are easily recognized, however, it is private land and we were not permitted to go ashore.

I’d love to share more photos from this beautiful spot, except I don’t actually have any.

Although I managed the “high seas” without significant trouble, as soon as we entered the cove and the little boat started the gentlest of  rocking, I, and the others who had yet to fall, made a mad dash to the rails! No lunch for us!

Perhaps if we’d followed advice to take our “seasickness remedies” the night before, we’d have been a bit more prepared. But queasy stomachs were a small disadvantage in light of being so close to the magnificent whales.

I would definitely recommend Na Pali Coast Hanalei Tours for any group eager for a day’s ocean adventure. Steven and Tyler were very eager to show us a good time, and were very kind to those who didn’t feel well.


Have you been whale watching? Do you do well on the “high seas?” I’d love to know if whale watching is something you’d like to do!




57 thoughts on “Whale Watching on the Pacific Ocean–a splendid idea if you don’t get seasick!

  1. I loved whale watching… either from the shore which on our east coast can be very spectacular, or on a boat… I have done sea sailing on a hobie cat, a 16 fter and would do it again if I was young enough and fit enough to be able to control the cat…. I partook in the off shore hobie cat championship for entry into the South African team for the world cup, but didn’t make it by 1 place….

    1. How exciting to learn that you got so close to the world cup, Rob. It is clear you are very comfortable with boats and I can imagine you’ve had all sorts of exciting opportunities to enjoy being on the ocean. We had such a good time, as you can hear from my enthusiasm, but it was really hard on some of our group. I don’t think my daughter ever saw one whale because she was so miserable! I’ll bet your boating days aren’t over! 🙂

  2. What an adventure and a memory making day. To see animals in THEIR natural habitats and free. And something as magnificent as a whale!!!! Yes it would be an honor to see this and yes I would probably get seasick and yes it would be worth it. 🙂

    1. Whale migration covers a lot of the globe, so I hope some day you’ll have that opportunity, Colleen. One of the things that thrills me is that when the whales are off our California coast people flock to see them and in a society that tends to be very easily bored and disinterested, there is real excitement. There are so few things left that seem to be almost universally loved. 🙂

  3. Nice post! I’ve been whale watching twice. The first time I did not get seasick and the second time I did. I figured out that it was because on the second trip I went inside for awhile. As long as I was on deck I was fine. This was years ago. I need to put whale watching on my “soon to do list.” It is so awesome to see them that close-up!

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I just spent some time on your blog and can see that you’ve traveled a lot and have an adventurous spirit. The sea got the better of even the most adventurous in our little boat this time, but it was still a great day! During the migration season I have spent many hours sitting on-shore staring out at the ocean just hoping to see one swim by! LOL! Some people do, but that hasn’t been my experience, so this was great fun to be so close.

  4. I love it when you slip in factoids, Debra. I feel I’m learning something new, without a final exam. 🙂
    I have been whale watching, years ago when we were on Maui, and somehow managed to keep my lunch, though I managed sun poisoning. I have a photo Tom took of me, on a boat, with a very red and swollen face, watching the breeching. It was spectacular. What an experience of all of you, but, especially for the children. Won’t it be fun to take them back now to the Long Beach Aquarium and see how the interact having seen the whales?
    Have you pulled out Michener’s “Hawaii” yet? 🙂

    1. You know, Penny, we’ve talked a lot about cleaning out those book piles. Well, not more than six months ago I put all my Michener books, many had been kicking around for years, in a box for the Goodwill. Hawaii was in that box! I had never read it and was thinking that it was one I was never going to get around to reading. Now I want it back! Sometimes I wonder why I let go of any books, since this seems to happen to me frequently. 🙂 I will just use the library! And sun poisoning? Oh that’s awful! That sounds like a story in itself, you poor thing. I hope that didn’t spoil any of your time on Maui. I’m thinking you might not have enjoyed the flight home very much! 😦

      1. That was only part of the story. Tom hurt himself trying to body surf, there was an interesting “scene” our first night with a hula dancer and a shot in the dark . . . maybe I’ll write about our trip to Hawaii someday soon. hehe It was, however, a fabulous trip – and we didn’t have to pay for it.

  5. Sounds like a whale of a day, Debra. Sorry you missed out on lunch in the cove.

    !Our last boating adventure ~> a windjammer cruise off the coast of Maine. No problem with seasickness that I recall. And we enjoyed being on the water for days of gorgeous scenery.

    1. Your cruise sounds wonderful, Nancy! You reference being on the water “for days” and so I can imagine this was quite special. The sea was very rough the day we were out, so I’m hoping that means we could try again on another occasion and handle it better. It was still a beautiful day. 🙂

      1. Our first day out was CHOPPY. We had chili for lunch. As people walked 10 feet from pot to table, chili sloshed over the sides of their bowls as the boat rocked and careened about. The sea settled down on day 2.

  6. Sounds wonderful, but I would have required the constant flow of maxi-strength Dramamine administered through an IV. Aren’t the sunsets there spectacular? Did you make it to the Na’Pali coastline on the west side of the island?

    1. We did see some of the Na’Pali coastline, Frank. I would like to go back again when we might have more time just to explore, however. Some of our sightseeing was done rather quickly! Your seasickness sounds much like my daughter’s. She just never did adjust and had a totally miserable day. I have reminded her that typically Southern California school children go whale watching with field trips. I think she will not be the parent to accompany them. 🙂

      1. Yep … it’s important for your daughter to know her limits. We saw Na’Pali from the air and water … awesome … and glimpses from land on the drive to the canyon. A beautiful island for sure.

  7. My wife and I went to Kauai for the first time a couple of years ago and I have to say it’s now our favorite island. I get industrial strength sea sickness so I do my whale watch from shore.

    1. Industrial strength seasickness! That’s a good description, Andrew. I wasn’t that impaired, but others were, and I felt so sorry for them! I think I am now fairly sure that I will choose Kauai again over other islands. I have only been on Oahu, so my comparisons aren’t very broad. But the energy on Oahu reminded me of home, and Kauai had a quietness that I almost never experience. Quiet, peaceful and lush…I really do think I could live there. 🙂

  8. Whale watching is one of my favorite things to do, although I never seem to get out as often as I’d like. We have one company that started operating out of our town last summer… maybe I’ll get out there with them this year.
    The waters around here can get very rough at times, but I have never been as seasick as I got while whale watching within Monterey Bay. The many sightings were worth it, but I don’t think I’ll do that particular trip ever again.

    1. I was also thinking of your whale watching in Mexico, isn’t it? I remember your story of being so close to the whales you could touch them! I think you’ve had some pretty spectacular experiences as I recall! Maybe you will have the chance to give this new company a try. I give you credit for even thinking about it if you’ve previously had such a bad time of it. I think my poor daughter learned this time that the sea is not for her! Oh my gosh…I don’t think her poor head came up once. Maybe you can just stand on shore with some binoculars. 🙂

      1. That’s right, in Mexico we were in a relatively calm lagoon in a tiny boat, right at eye level with the very friendly gray whales. There was so much going on that nobody had time to think about getting seasick!

  9. That’s a fabulous experience and one I would definitely love to do myself…except I get seasick just talking about seasickness! Funny thing is that I can go on speedboats – they’re the only types of boats I can go on. Once you get going, there’s no rocking, so I’m fine on them and I really love the high speed on the open water. But when we get back to the dock, I’m off in 3 seconds!

    1. Your experience is similar to mine, actually. I was feeling so proud of myself that I was fine while others were definitely NOT. As long as the boat was speeding along I had a great time. The minute we slowed down in that cove it was all over for me! Funny how we are all quite different when it comes to motion sickness. I was pleased that by the time that hit, though, I had already seen what I came to see. 🙂

  10. It sounds like a wonderful thing to do, despite the seasickness! Especially as it was with the family too. The nearest I have got to whale-watching is seal-watching… not as exciting but still a lovely experience. I have survived a hurricane on a ferry without being queasy in the least, so I must have seafaring ancestors and they passed on the right genes! 😉

    1. Cathy, a hurricane on a ferry? That’s a story! My goodness, yes, you must have the right stock. 🙂 I think seals are wonderful to watch. They’re playful, and although by size not as majestic, they are still fabulous creatures. Last summer we were sitting on the beach and a seal somehow got caught up in the tide and nearly came ashore and it reminded me how many animals are living in the ocean and we just don’t always see them. When we do, it’s a real treat!

  11. Debra, I always enjoy your fabulous photos and stories. I had no idea Kauai was the oldest Hawaiian island. An interesting tidbit.

    Please tell the girls I’m proud of them for making it through the trip without incident. They’re really troopers, and they had an experience they’ll never forget.

    I went whale watching in Alaska one summer. No seasickness, because we were lucky enough to come upon an mother whale teaching her baby to dive. We watched those whales for thirty minutes – the legal limit – and I snapped shot after shot after shot. The pictures were glorious. Maybe you met some of their kin in Hawaii!!

    1. Andra, what a fantastic experience, really unique, to have seen a mother teaching her baby to dive! That would have been incredible. The thirty minute rule makes sense, but I’ve never actually heard that before. The girls did great, Andra, but Aimee was one sick puppy! She was so miserable I was worried about her. And she was so far over the rail that she was soaked to the skin. There was a Costco nearby and I went in and bought her more clothes because she was shivering so hard. Whale watching is so magnificent, but for those who are seriously seasick, it’s not fun at all! I am so pleased that I was there with the girls for their first whale encounter. This definitely falls into the category of making a special memory. 🙂

  12. I love that movie for how Hawaiian it is with all the music and the scenery and the storyline. How wonderful to see the whales! I would have been so excited. It’s great that they’re protected. What a wonderful experience for your family to share. I’m sure your grandchildren will be talking about it for years xx

  13. I loved the movie The Descendants, as well, Charlie. I have the soundtrack in my playlist and was listening to it long before we took this trip. Occasionally I listen to Hawaiian music just because it’s very relaxing! I think you’ve hit upon part of why this was special, and it is because we enjoyed it as a family. I’ve been enjoying your photos from Vanatu. You’ve certainly had a wonderful family vacation and those memories are worth every penny! 🙂

    1. There was a little luck in capturing the whales at play, Koji! I actually had to put the camera away for most of the boat ride because it was getting wet from sea spray. At the point of taking the photos I very quickly whipped out the camera, aimed, clicked and put the camera away! I was so happy to see that I got anything al all! 🙂

  14. Debra, your post reminds me of the one time I went whale watching when I was in Maui way back in 1998. We were very close to the whales, and I would love to go again. I loved reading your post. What a wonderful experience!

    1. Karen, I’m so glad to know that you had some island time in Maui! I can’t imagine anyone visiting the Hawaiian islands and not hoping to return at some point. 🙂 I hope we both have the pleasure of that experience again! Thank you for your very ind comments, my friend.

  15. Suddenly you had stationary land to compare your motion with Debra – that’s what did it! Sorry you were sick but I hope it didn’t take away the joy of seeing the Whales in their natural environment.

    Love that sunset at Hanalei Bay 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Martin, and I hadn’t put it all together, but you’re right, of course, about the stationary land affecting my motion sickness! I was focused on that beautiful shore–a big mistake apparently. 🙂

  16. Ooooh, humpbacks! We have gone whale watching out of Ventura, around the Channel Islands, during the grey whale migration. It’s a wonderful trip because even if we don’t see whales, there is so much more to see that a lack of whales is hardly a disappointment. Plus it’s only 2-3 hours, which lessens the chance of…how did you say it? “Desperately hugging the rails.” *L* The last time we went, though, I sprang for the 6 hour humpback-watching cruise. I found that the beauty of the channel that fills 2-3 hours nicely doesn’t quite fit an entire 6 hours, and for the first time ever I had to sacrifice my breakfast to the sea. And not one humpback. Still, I’d cruise around the islands any day, whales or not.

    1. Thanks for sharing about the whale watching off the Channel Islands, Janine. I would really enjoy that, I think. I have never done much around those islands and I’ve always wanted to. A six hour tour would be really incredible, and I think you’re right about so much to see that it wouldn’t necessarily be a disappointment without the whales. Next time I am definitely going to research the best seasickness prevention methods! Even though I didn’t feel well, it was still an exciting time and well worth it. 🙂

  17. What a beautiful part of the world! I’m sorry your seasickness didn’t let you fully enjoy it. I suffer with the same no matter how much ginger I consume or wrist bands I wear, especially when someone on board decides to cook! Steering did help a bit, so it’s nice if you know the Captain, but I suppose on a public boat like that one it would never be allowed.

    1. I did have some seasickness, Cristine, but not nearly as much as some of the others in our group. I think I would have done fine if I’d started taking the Bonine the night before. We were told to do that and forgot. 🙂 I’d have been fine if the boat had just stayed moving. 🙂

  18. Double wow, Debbie! Whale watching and a new look 🙂 Triple wow, actually, because Hawaii looks like one big wow to me! Good to hear you’ve been having some (up and) down time in such a beautiful place.

  19. Whale watching is something I’ve always wante dto do. In fact I should write that whole sentence in CAPITALS. Something about seeing them, their migration, their existence. A joy.
    I’m not sur ehow I would handle the roll and pitch – I’m usually very good – have sailed a few times and experienced major storms but you never know ….
    Good to have you back on dry land x

  20. Dear Debra, well I can see I need to add “whale watching” to my bucket list! Time seems fleeting to me as I age and the list just keeps getting longer as I read so many interesting blogs and watch PBS.

    I’m so glad you and the children and family had the opportunity to do this. They will never forget and it will strength the reverence they have for nature. A reverence you, I’m sure, have nourished in them. Peace.

  21. There is something profoundly spiritual about watching those big mammals passing majestically close by. I have on many occasion enjoyed whale watching – and, fortunately, I have no problems with high seas. 🙂

  22. There is nothing more magnificent than experiencing this, I love watching whales. I’m glad you made it through most of the roughest seas so you could really enjoy watching them play. We were on a small catamaran for a tour once and were lucky enough to have calm water. I don’t think I’d do as well as you did if it were rough! xx

  23. Pingback: Tempus Fugit | breathelighter

  24. I can’t think how I missed this until now, Debra, but I’m so glad I’ve caught up with it at last. What a memorable experience for you, and though it must have been difficult to take photos in those choppy conditions, your images do give a very vivid impression of how exciting it was for you. I’m a poor sailor in small boat (too much of a coward to enjoy them) but I might force myself if I could get so close to such magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

  25. What a marvelous experience. I have never been whale watching, but I have been deep see fishing and seen whales whilst out on the high seas. It was extraordinary. One of the most magical afternoons I’ve ever experienced. 🙂 I’d def do it again, but would make sure I had some other ‘stuff’ planned just in case we didn’t see any.

  26. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.

    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off
    topic but I had to tell someone!

    1. What a funny, yet really unfortunate story! I’m sorry I didn’t read this until today…you were stuck in my SPAM folder. you’ve given me a chuckle, although I am really sorry for your daughter and hope perhaps she’ll be persuaded to give the beach another try. I won’t blame her, though, if she never wants to “hear” the ocean in a seashell again! Poor baby! Thanks for sharing. I like interesting stories and you don’t need to stay to a topic. LOL!

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