Filming Blockbuster Movies In Kauai, Hawaii
No Photos Do Kauai Justice!
Hawaii has an unbelievable resume of movies, but the island of Kauai in Hawaii stands alone among the great tropical locations of the world. Kauai, Hawaii provides an amazing range of both land and seascapes, and since it’s just six hours from the west coast it has become an extension of Hollywood’s back lot for decades now. Supposedly the movie “White Heat started it all off back in 1933, long before Hawaii became a state. Today the Hawaiian island of Kauai remains a very popular film location with the more recent filming of "The Descendants" and “Just Go With It” from 2011. Interestingly enough, Kauai rarely plays itself In the movies. Even in the recently filmed, "Just Go With It," it was a stand-in for it's sister island, Maui.
This article highlights my love of Kauai, and the movies that were filmed there. It is also a very rough guide to the many movie sites (on both public and private property), that have existed on Kauai for years now.
A Land of Chickens & Waterfalls!
Kauai is without a doubt the real treasure map of film sites in Hawaii and maybe everywhere else, for that matter. Why? Kauai has some of the most beautiful spots on earth to film. With over 1000 waterfalls streaming down the lush landscape in places that man has not destroyed or even slightly modified, it is a great place to film because within about 45 minutes, you can find a landscape that could represent Australia, Tahiti, Costa Rica, the deepest jungles of Africa, the southwestern United States, the south pacific beaches of World War II, and yes even "Bali Hai" as depicted in the movie, "South Pacific."
I visited Kauai for almost two weeks not long ago and I think what surprised me the most outside of the breathtaking beauty was the fact that it is home to thousands and thousands of wild chickens, beautiful wild chickens I would add, but nonetheless THEY'RE CHICKENS. They're on parking lots, the roads, and they walk into restaurants and stores. Sometimes they are chased out but quite often they are just ignored. Surely there has been a movie made which involves the wild chickens of Kauai, but I haven’t seen it yet. It seems they are being ignored by the movie industry as well! I believe they are illegal to kill or capture and since they have no natural predators to gobble them up, they’re numbers continue to grow, which almost guarantees the crowing roosters will wake you up every morning unless you're in a tall hotel. But I digress!
Lots Of Movie Sites To Visit
I would like to point out that aside from everything else one can do in Hawaii, it was also highly interesting to see many of the places where some of the best-known movies were made. While I won’t talk about all of them, I will point out the locations of many of my (and hopefully your) favorites. These sights not only have a rich movie history connected to them; they also connect us in another way to the amazing beauty of Hawaii and Kauai in particular. They are in no special order. It should be noted that all of the photos taken in this article were taken with my own camera (with the exception of the John Wayne movie poster and the Gilligans Island photo of the S.S. Minnow).
The Remains of The Coco Palms Resort
The "Coco Palms" Resort And The Movie, "Blue Hawaii"
The only thing that saddened me on my trip to Kauai was the property of the Coco Palms resort, located on the southern end of the island in Wailua next to Kapaa. It was here that played the primary sight for the Elvis Presley movie, "Blue Hawaii". The hotel and its resort of 418 rooms started out as a grove of palm trees and later became an inn owned by Kauai’s last queen Deborah Kapule.
Filming was done right on the resort grounds of the Coco Palms as well as the beautiful beach in Wailua. It was also where cast and crew stayed while filming. In fact, most of the last 20 minutes of the movie was shot on and near the grounds of the Coco Palms. As is evident in the film, Blue Hawaii clearly featured the Coco Palms at the peak of its popularity, and the movie became Elvis’s most commercially successful film.
The Coco Palms was wiped out during Hurricane Iniki which hit Kauai very hard back in 1992. In fact Hurricane Iniki became the most powerful hurricane to hit Hawaii in history, doing an estimated 1.8 billion dollars in damage. When Hurricane Iniki struck, the Coco Palms was shut down indefinitely as repairs proved too costly. Today this totally abandoned resort with windows missing and the new beginnings of jungle growth once again, just sits there as a ghostly reminder of the long lost 60’s, all wrapped up with a chain link fence around it.
Even though you can easily see the devastation as you drive by, I couldn't help thinking about this once vibrant, high demand resort housing the likes of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ester Williams, and many, many others. Over the years, the Coco Palms served as the hotel for the cast and crew many movies including “South Pacific." When Bob Denver and crew arrived in Kauai in November of 1963 to film Gilligans Island, he and his crew also stayed at the Coco Palms Hotel. As it sits there, more weatherbeaten every year, i can't imagine what this land is worth today! It is very easy to find as it sits right on Kuhio Highway, in Kapaa, Kauai,
Taro Fields on the North Side Of Kauai
Honeymoon In Vegas
Even the airport served as the backdrop for Nicholas Cage as he watched his fiancé take off and leave him behind once again in the Hawaii scenes from "Honeymoon in Vegas". Even the airport counters of Lihu’e Airport were used in a scene featuring Nicholas Cage. In addition, the north shore area of Kauai at Anini Beach contains the beautiful beach home of James Caan’s character, Tommy Corman who tempted and manipulated Nicholas Cage’s fictional fiancé, Sarah Jessica Parker. Anini beach is a narrow beach off a large protected coral reef with shallow water. It can be found about four miles east of Princeville off Hawaii Highway 56.
Nearby, the large impressive taro fields nestled just beneath the mountains of the North Shore are easily visible from the main road. These fields looked to me like rice paddies and they were actually filmed to look like Vietnamese rice paddies in the movie “Uncommon Valor” which starred Gene Hackman.
The Wailua River
Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Director Steven Spielberg was so impressed with what we saw all over the island of Kauai in 1980, that he came back in 1992 to film Jurassic Park!
So, if you’d like to see the where the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed, go find the lookout over Menehune Fishpond on Kauai. It was also in the Hule’ia river where the seaplane rescued Harrison Ford as he was being chased by the headhunting natives, right after the giant ball rolled towards him. Naturally many of the Kauai islanders were cast as the Hovito headhunters. Once again, the Island rarely plays itself. It is usually playing another more costly and remote location such as South America.
Waimea Canyon (more beautiful than the Grand Canyon)
One of my favorite John Wayne movies was filmed at Hanama’ulu Bay by the famous director John Ford. It would be his last film with his good friend John Wayne . Aside from the beautiful island of Kaui as a backdrop for the movie, this is one movie where John Wayne isn’t a soldier or a cowboy. Donovan’s Reef is actually a romantic comedy for the whole family, as there aren’t too many romantic comedies from John Wayne. In this movie, Kauai played the part of the imaginary South Pacific island of Haleokaloa. Although filmmaker John Ford used a number of other locations, Waimea Canyon (the colorful Grand Canyon of Kauai), is a standout in this movie as it became a scene for a large expansive look at the canyon. The fictional memorial for John Wayne’s World War II crew that had supposedly died years earlier, sat atop a mountain overlooking the real Waimea Canyon. Unofortunately, early 60's color did little justice to one of the more breaktaking sites in the world!
Pirates of The Caribbean IV (On Stranger Tides)
Much of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, released in 2011, was not even filmed in the Caribbean, but rather in locations throughout Hawaii, including Kauai’s remote Napali Coast which is reached only by boat. The 4th film of the Pirate series showcases Hawaii’s lush rain forests and the always-stunning Napali Coast.
The Famous "Fern Grotto"
Outbreak (The Movie)
This Dustin Hoffman movie about a fictional ebola-like virus was filmed at Kamokila Village in 1994, right on the banks of the Waillua River. You can take a trip down the Waiilua and cruise right buy the village on a boat ride to see the “Fern Grotto” a popular tourist spot in Kauai. There was a time over five decades ago when the Grotto was off-limits to all but Hawaiian royalty. In this movie Kauai served as Zaire in Central Africa. Roughly 100 natives of Kauai were used as extras to play African villagers and soldiers for-hire, who were dying of the mysterious and fictional disease
The Waterfalls from the Opening Scene of Fantasy Island
"If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost"
The popular 1960’s CBS television show was filmed initially in Kauai. The pilot episode in part was filmed in November of 1963 in the village of Hanalei. The assassination of President Kennedy took place while they were filming on this rather remote spot (at least for 1963). At this time Hanalei did not have television reception and the news of the assassination reached them much more slowly than the rest of the country. I also visited “The Macadamia Nut Farm” on Oahu where more of Gilligans island was filmed.
Hanalei Bay & Beach
Fantasy Island (a TV show)
While not a movie, I had to mention it. The opening shot of the TV show, "Fantasy Island" (remember- da plane, da plane?) always showed twin water falls amidst a lush green background each week. This can be found just north of Lihu’e on Highway 50 . It’s just a short drive with easy access to take all the pictures you want. Additional scenes were also shot at the Coco Palms resort prior to its destruction by hurricane. Unfortunately we were all fooled again as the set was re-created in Los Angeles after the initial shooting where the movie dialogue each week could be filmed.
South Pacific (1958 version)
Anyone who remembers the film and Broadway show “South Pacific has memories of a beautiful South Pacific island full of navy sailors. That movie was largely filmed on Kauai in 1957, although some aerial footage was taken in Fiji. Today the site of the little skit or stage show that took place within the movie for the sailors is now the beachfront of the Marriott Resort and Beach Club.
Kauai’s real Mount Makana became the visual representation of the now famous “Bali Hai.”
The lead male part of the movie was the fictitious wealthy French planter, Emile DeBecque. He was portrayed by the famous Italian actor and singer Rossano Brazzi, and was shown in the movie at his fictional South Pacific home or estate. His home in the movie was filmed at the Birkmyre Estate at Princeville in the north part of Kauai. It was replaced by a small single story hotel in the early 60’s, but today both are gone and the site is now abandoned and filling with jungle overgrowth. Hanalei Bay also appears in "South Pacific," and “The Descendants." "Hanalei Bay is one more Kauai's unique and almost untouched locations.
Remember Nellie Forbush? Portrayed by the actress Mitzi Gaynor, she “washed that man right outta her hair” for a few days as filming took place on Lumahai Beach. By the way, the sailors sang, "Nothing Like a Dame" at Blackpot Beach near the Hanalei Bay pier right near the St. Regis Hotel where most stars stay these days. In Hanalei Town, on Kuhio Highway, Lumahai Beach is just a short walk from Kuhio Highway. This is not a busy and dangerous highway like most people would think of. While Lumahai Beach may not be signed, you can ask anyone in the town and you’ll also see cars parked along the road.
While my wife and I, and our friends sipped drinks, on the balcony of the St. Regis at sunset, I snapped the photo below of the famous beach now below the St. Regis.
The Falls of Manawaiopuna where the helicopter initially lands and departs at the end.
An article about the movies filmed at Kauai, Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of the movie Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park began actually filming in 1992 on the lush, green, west side of the island. The 200’ foot long façade of the visitors center for the movie was built on the grounds of Valley House, an estate in Kealia Valley.
On the north side of Kauai is a very lush tropical valley called Limahuli. This is where the raptor pen sequence was filmed where the cow was devoured. The unlucky cow from the scene managed to survive in real life and was later showed off by his owner at a County Fair with a sign around the cows neck stating, “I was eaten in Jurassic Park.”
By the way, it was Kauai on location for this movie that that Spielberg experienced a real life hurricane with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. And it just happen to be Hurricane Iniki, the same one that took out the Coco Palms. It happened on his last day of filming and as a result filming had to be delayed until months later when a smaller team returned to the island to complete their shots. As an additional bit of trivia, it is this hurricane that can be seen with pouring torrential downfalls on the video monitors in the control room of Jurassic Park. A few brief moments of the storm were also included showing the waves crashing over a breakwater.
Me at Lihue Airport
“The Descendants” is the latest example of Hollywood’s long time love affair with Kauai. While filming in Hawaii first began in Kauai back in 1933, movie filming probably kicked into high gear in 1958 with the filming of the movie South Pacific.
The Descendants features a number of major scenes shot all over Hawaii with many filmed in Kauai as George Clooney's character flies off to talk to his relatives. The movie was released towards the end of 2011 and became very popular with its tale of a Hawaiian lawyer and his family who are inheriting a large parcel of gorgeous Kauai property from their Ancestors. During the movie, George Clooney (the lawyer) is on a journey to find and confront his wife’s secret lover. The movie does a superb job of capturing the essence and feel of Hawaii. The film is based on the 2007 novel by the native Hawaiian writer Kaui Hart Hemmings. The film features the Lihue Airport once again as well as a favorite watering hole (Tahiti Nui) in Hanalei where Clooney’s brother Beau Bridges hangs out. The bar scene used a number of local residents to fill the bar as extras. The Descendants’ also features an excellent Hawaiian music soundtrack, which I appreciated, having learned to like the Hawaiian music while visiting.
Locals were also used in a number of other beautiful locations on the island where typical Hawaiian scenes are found. During filming on Kauai, Gorge Clooney, cast and crew stayed at the luxurious St. Regis Princeville Resort in the northern part of Kauai and scenes were filmed in the lobby and at the Princeville Fountain which is the focal point of the main entrance to Princeville. I enjoyed having a cocktail at sunset at this beautiful hotel which provides a spectacular view of Hanalei Bay. It is located about 32 miles northwest of the Lihue airport on Ka Hakuy Road in Princeville, Kauai.
The film is based on the novel by local author Kaui Hart Hemming who’s family own the Kauikeolani Estate which became a base camp during the filming. She also makes a brief cameo appearance as lawyer Clooney’s secretary.
Na Pali Coast
King Kong (1976 version)
The 1976 remake of the classic King Kong movie featuring Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin made use of the NaPali Coast in northwest Kauai. This is where you'll find the towering pinnacles, rugged cliffs and lush tropiclal jungle that goes a long way in creating the atmosphere and look of the "Valley of Kong". This amazing coastline (which is not reachable by ground vehicle) substituted as the mysterious island in the Indian Ocean that became visible as the fog began to lift, and the oil company research ship approaches land. As the boat landed during filming of the oil company advance team, the large surf that existed at the time on this shore of Kauai evidently made the boat landing somewhat difficult.
I got to see this amazing view from the photographic plane trip I took with my wife and friends. While my plane flight was great, I suspect that the best and most peaceful way to enjoy this coast is by boat or on a guided kayak tour. You can land on the beach here, but I'm told you need to be an experienced kayak user to do so.
A Partial List of The Movies Made in Kauai
2011 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
2011 Just Go With It
2011 The Descendents
2011 Soul Surfer
2008 High School Reunion 5
2008 Perfect Getaway
2008 Tropic Thunder
2006 Supergator (for SyFy Channel)
2001 Jurassic Park III
2001 The Time Machine
2000 To End All Wars
1998 6 Days / 7 Nights
1998 Mighty Joe Young
1997 George of the Jungle
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park
1993 Jurassic Park
1992 Honeymoon in Vegas
1990 Flight of the Intruder
1990 Lord of the Flies
1987 Throw Momma from the Train
1983 The Thorn Birds
1983 Uncommon Valor
1983 Body Heat
1983 Raiders of the Lost Ark
1978 Acapulco Gold
1977 Fantasy Island
1977 Islands in the Stream
1976 King Kong
1974 Castaway Cowboy
1970 The Hawaiians
1969 Lost Flight
1966 Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.
1965 None but the Brave
1965 Paradise Hawaiian Style
1964 Gilligan’s Island
1963 Donovan’s Reef
1962 Diamond Head
1962 Sanga Ari
1961 Blue Hawaii
1960 The Wackiest Ship in the Army
1959 Forbidden Island
1958 South Pacific
1957 Jungle Heat
1956 Between Heaven and Hell
1953 Miss Sadie Thompson
1951 Bird of Paradise
1950 Pagan Love Song
1934 White Heat
Source: Hawaiian Film Commission
A Fantastic Source on the Subject and partial source for this article is: The Kauai Movie Book by Chris Cook and David Boynton -Mutual Publishing. The book includes a variety of on-location shots taken during filming.
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