Five Famous Movies Filmed on Kauai
Kauai sets a beautiful stage in these blockbuster cinema favorites
Even the most talented and imaginative movie set creators fail to rival what Mother Nature presents on Kauai. Striking beauty and diverse landscapes have made "The Island of Discovery” a destination of choice among filmmakers who find natural set sites more gorgeous than anything that could be contrived in a Hollywood studio.
Cinema buffs are sure to spot landmarks that ring familiar, from the lush Napali Coast where a theme park features living dinosaurs drawn from prehistoric DNA to a Peruvian jungle where angry natives give chase to a bullwhip wielding, snake-fearing doctor named Indiana.
But it’s nothing new. In 1934, Universal Pictures chose Kauai for the plantation drama, White Heat. Film buffs will also fondly recall 1958’s South Pacific and 1961’s Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley.
Here are five movies/franchises where Kauai scenery steals the show:
1) Raiders of the Lost Ark
Remember that adrenalin-rush opening scene where Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) franticly races through a dense Peruvian jungle to escape blowgun-frenzied Amazonians? Kauai’s Huleia River doubled for the Amazon, and the lush Huleia National Wildlife Refuge stood in for the jungle.
"Jock! Start the Engine! Start the Engine!"
While the wildlife reserve is now closed to the public, you can catch other Indy sites along the Huleia River from Kipu Ranch just south of Lihue. The private working cattle ranch welcomes you to scope out sites on a Kipu Ranch Adventures (KipuTours.com) Ultimate Ranch Tour.
Sweeping views take in Kipu Kai from the top of Mt. Haupu, through forests and along the Huleia River to the Indiana Jones Rope Swing. The setting is so remarkable that it was also tapped for Jurassic Park and The Descendants.
One of the highest-grossing films of all times, this adventure classic also globetrotted to France, Tunisia, and California for filming from June to September 1980. It was a far cry from a “one and done” for Director Steven Spielberg, as he would share the island’s tropical grandeur in a series that brought T-Rex into the mix.
2) The Jurassic Park Franchise
Despite Hurricane Iniki destroying the bulk of his Jurassic Park sets as it ravaged Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992, Spielberg’s love affair with the island has only grown stronger. In fact, the director “cast” Kauai in all of the franchise’s installments filmed to date.
Perhaps the most impactful scene in the Academy Award winning blockbuster is the opening of Kauai’s fabled Napali Coast that stars as “Isla Nublar.”
The film’s helipad was constructed at Manawaiopuna Falls, which is only visible from the air. For a rush that rivals a T-Rex chase, Island Helicopters (IslandHelicopters.com/falls.html) lands for a guided walk along a jungle path to the base of the 400-foot “Jurassic Falls.” The pilot typically flies the same Hanapepe Valley route that the chopper takes in the movie.
Played by Sam Neill, Dr. Alan Grant learns that the dinosaurs have discovered how to reproduce after stumbling across the raptor nest at Kauai’s Allerton Garden, the same location where Jurassic Park’s maintenance shed was constructed.
In The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Jurrasic Park III (2001), Jurassic World (2015) and Jurrasic World: Lost Kingdom (2018) sequels, you’ll also spot such Kauai landmarks as Hoopii Falls on the Kapaa Stream, and the Puu Ka Ele Reservoir that's located on a 2,500-acre Kilauea spread now known as Jurassic Kahili Ranch, Blue Hole, Lawai, and Olokele Valley.
Oloke Canyon which is adjacent to the larger Waimea Canyon is mostly off limits except to a few helicopter and other guided tours. You might recognize it from the scene where Dr Grant and the kids need to climb over the electric fence as his friends are simultaneously trying to restore the electrical power to the park.
3) The Descendants
Hawaii-born and raised novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings kept it close to home when she penned The Descendants in 2007. With its cinema adaptation earning an Oscar-nomination for Best Original Screenplay, the 2011 flick stars George Clooney as Honolulu attorney Matt King.
As mentioned above, Kipu’s Ultimate Ranch Tour takes in a scene location filmed overlooking highly inaccessible Kipu Kai Beach. At Hanalei Bay, you can stroll along the same sands as Clooney did as you try to spot the vacation rental featured in the filming.
4) Soul Surfer
This biography literally hits close to home. It’s based on Bethany Hamilton, a Kauai professional surfer who lost her left arm at age 13 while surfing at Tunnels Beach on Kauai’s North Shore in 2003. Bethany performed all of the stunts in the movie that also features the North Shore’s Hanalei Pier and beginning of the Kalalau Trail.
5) Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise
Franchise is the name of the game and Kauai often trumps its namesake islands in this adventure collection that includes The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Dead Man's Chest (2006), At World's End (2007), On Stranger Tides (2011), and Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).
Many feel that that Disney should have titled its On Stranger Tides installment as Pirates of the Garden Island, especially since much of the filming took place on Kauai.
This movie finds Johnny Depp returning to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow, who discovers Santiago, a location depicted by the nearly inaccessible Honopu Arch on the Napali Coast. While this drop dead gorgeous site is inaccessible by land, you can view it on helicopter tours or boat excursions by companies like Blue Dolphin, Capt. Andy’s, and Holo Holo from Port Allen.
Lush tropical settings of Allerton Garden, Kipu Ranch, and Grove Farm stood in for Caribbean locales, while the coconut groves on the grounds of the former Cocoa Palms Hotel served as the site where Barbossa holds Jack captive.
Bonus! In the Works: Jungle Cruise
An upcoming American adventure film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Jungle Book is based on the Disney Parks attraction of the same name. With flavors akin to Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, it stars Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Emily Blunt. Watch for the release on October 11, 2019 by Walt Disney Pictures.
Reel News Hawaii posted a picture on Twitter of the set as it was being built at the Kapaia Reservoir on Kauai near Wailua Falls. They report filming took place back in May/June and the set has already been demolished.
We hope you enjoyed our little taste of Aloha! If you ever have any questions or story ideas, please e-mail us at [email protected]!
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