The Oscar Goes to Kauaʻi – Spotlight on Your Favourite Movie Locations

“I love you”, Tony Curtis whispered on the dock at Hanalei Pier in Kaua’i.  Not to me, of course, but to Mary Murphy in the 1955 movie Beachhead.

"Tropic Thunder" fans will recognize this Kauaʻi location at the Lava Lava Beach Club - photo Debra Smith

“Tropic Thunder” fans will recognize this Kauaʻi location at the Lava Lava Beach Club – photo Debra Smith

Kauaʻi, the fourth largest island in the state of Hawai’i, has been Hollywood’s perfect tropical back lot in over 70 movies. Starting with 1933’s White Heat, and followed by movies like South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, None but the Brave, King Kong, and The Descendants, Kaua’i’s crystal blue waters, golden beaches and lush green rainforests have been stand-ins for paradise. As a movie lover and a first-time visitor to Kaua’i, I was excited to be scouting the eastern shore of the island with Polynesian Adventure Tours on their Movie Adventure tour.

Searching for Elvis

A minibus full of movie fans picked me up in front of the Kiahuna Plantation Resort in Koloa (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was filmed near here) and we took off on the narrow Kuhio Highway that wiggles up the east coast of this 1456 sq. km. (563 sq. mi.) island.  Kaua’i is Hawai’i’s oldest island.  The volcano that bubbled and puffed it into existence about six million years ago moved on to create the other islands. The black fields of lava it left behind have since broken down into brick-red clay, a wonderful rich soil. It’s also the source of all those “red dirt” t-shirts in the souvenir shops. Through the leaves of mango, breadfruit and towering acacia trees, we glimpsed rusty ribbons of that red earth running along the cliff sides on our way to Wailua.

The star of many movies made on Kauaʻi, beautiful Opaeka’a Falls - photo by Debra Smith 

The star of many movies made on Kauaʻi, beautiful Opaeka’a Falls – photo by Debra Smith

The Wailua area, also known as the Royal Coconut Coast, is prime movie location territory. As the monitor in the minibus played a clip of the famous wedding scene from Blue Hawaii (1961), we listened to Elvis Presley serenade Joan Blackman with the Hawaiian Wedding Song as they floated down the Wailua River past the legendary Coco Palms Hotel. Tragically, the hotel was destroyed on September 11, 1992 by Hurricane Iniki. The blown-out windows and collapsing tiki roof were still being used to great effect in 2009’s Dinocroc vs. Supergator. The plot involves a group of movie lovers in a minivan who are attacked by a giant reptile while visiting the ruins of the Coco Palms. Part of the appeal of our tour was getting introduced to unknown classics like that one.

Speaking of introductions, our Kaua’i born driver Jana would wave at passersby as we drove along and announce “That was my auntie (cousin, nephew or father-in-law)”. She made us feel a bit more like “ohana”, (the Hawaiian word for family and friends), instead of just a bus full of day-tripping tourists. She’s rubbed shoulders with several movie crew members over the years, and had a few tales to tell about the island’s celebrity homeowners like Will Smith, Julia Roberts and Bette Midler.

Movie Mash-ups Revealed

Our next stop was Opaeka’a Falls where Jana showed us some movie magic using clips from Donovan’s Reef (1963).  The western side of Kaua’i holds two undisputed natural gems, the Waimea Canyon, (nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), and the looming, green, accordion-shaped cliffs of the Napili Coast.  Directors can, and do, easily combine the best of every location, like picturesque Wailua Falls and the colourful Waimea Canyon, to create an even more impressive setting.  After a quick stop for pictures, we were on our way to the North Shore.  We passed through several lovely small towns full of cafes and art galleries like Kapa’a (Honeymoon in Vegas); Anahola (Raiders of the Lost Ark; Six Days Seven Nights) and Kilauea (Tropic Thunder).

There are plenty of stops that kids will enjoy like Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge where we saw the Kilauea Lighthouse featured in Disney’s animated film, Lilo & Stitch.  It will be easy for them to imagine the roaming dinos of Jurassic Park on the rolling hills of Jurassic Kahili Ranch.

As authentic as they get, the Tahiti Nui tiki bar is open for business every day and was a location for "The Descendants" - photo by Debra Smith

As authentic as they get, the Tahiti Nui tiki bar is open for business every day and was a location for “The Descendants” – photo by Debra Smith

In the tiny town of Hanalei we stopped for lunch at the Tahiti Nui tiki bar. It looked like George Clooney and Beau Bridges of The Descendants had just left the building.  Everything, including the carved barstools are just the same as they were when that scene was shot. Sorry we missed you George!

Rated E for Everyone

Whether your travels take you to Kaua’i during Oscar season or not, this is a great tour for the whole family.  There were many more clips and photo ops and plenty to enjoy on this six-hour tour. Grandparents will remember great movies like South Pacific, Miss Sadie Thompson and the Wackiest Ship in the Army; parents can relate to Avatar, Throw Momma from the Train and The Descendants; and kids will enjoy a visit to the Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and Soul Surfer locations. The new Disney animated movie called Moana, about the discovery of Hawaii will be in theatres soon. From the trailer, it looks as though the cliffs of the Napili Coast might be making an appearance. If you love the movies, get ready for your close-up on Kaua’i.

For more visitor information visit: www.gohawaii.com/kauai

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