Hollywood has had a long-distance relationship with Kauai for many years, with producers often jetting over for visits to scout and film on location. And what’s not to love? Beyond the sandy beaches, Kauai’s lush rainforests can play the backdrop of nearly any tropical location and the friendly residents make the island a fun place to do business. Over the years, Kauai is where Elvis serenaded adoring fans in Blue Hawaii, King Kong made a cameo on our shores, dinosaurs roamed our valleys and even Disney created a cartoon town based on authentic Kauai towns in Lilo and Stitch.
Are you interested in Kauai’s movie history? Here’s a list of Kauai’s most popular blockbusters and where they were shot. Time for you to visit and make your own cameo. Ready? Lights, camera, aloha!
The Jurassic Series: Jurassic Park I, Jurassic Park – The Lost World, Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World
In 1993, the original Jurassic Park roared with Kauai imagery, from the arrival at Isla Nublar (Napali Coast) to the helicopter touching down on a landing pad at Manawaiopuna Falls (nicknamed Jurassic Falls). Dinosaurs traveled from the north to west shores, eating a park staff member who unfortunately fell into a container with a hidden dino inside at Limahuli Garden, discovery of a raptor nest at the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Allerton Garden in Lawai. Then, Steven Spielberg returned to Kauai to film parts of Jurassic World in 2015, just 22 years later.
Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides
This film should have been titled “Pirates of the Garden Island.” Scenes of the movie were filmed all around Kauai, including Jack Sparrow discovering the unique Honopu arch on the Napali Coast, which is only accessible by boat, or being held captive on the coconut groves of the closed Coco Palms Hotel in Kapaa.
Hanalei Bay was the showcase of the Oscar winning movie The Descendants. You can stroll this two-mile crescent shaped bay, just like George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and the rest of the cast, on any given day and look for the two oceanfront properties featured in the movie. You might get distracted easily, first by the towering waterfalls cascading down Mt. Namolokama, then by the surfers zipping up and down waves all along the shoreline. In the town of Hanalei, Tahiti Nui was the actual local bar and restaurant featured in the movie, the extras in the movie were actually just regulars at the bar. Another iconic moment of this film was at Kipu Ranch, where the actors were filmed overlooking the private and highly inaccessible Kipu Kai beach.
Disney’s Lilo and Stitch
When Experiment 626 steals a space mobile and crash lands, the blue koala-like alien creature Stitch landed smack dab in the middle of the biggest little town on Kauai, Hanapepe Town. Hanapepe is a historic town with old storefronts and clapboard homes, today revitalized with art shops and little cafes. Every Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., Kauai artists, musicians and local vendors host the Hanapepe Art Walk, which has become a must do for visitors.
Based on Bethany Hamilton, local Kauai girl and professional surfer, who lost her left arm while surfing at Tunnels Beach on the North Shore of Kauai when she was 13. Hamilton performed all of the stunts herself in the movie.
One of the biggest films of the 21st century shot several scenes on Kauai. Parts of Avatar were filmed at the Keahua Arboretum in Wailua on the east side of Kauai. This spot is popular among locals for its many hiking trail, swimmable stream and swimming holes and picnic areas.
Called the largest film production in Kauai’s history, Tropic Thunder turned the forests of Kauai into Vietnam. Most of the filming was done in the highly dense back woods of the Wailua Falls area where most never venture to travel, while some scenes were shot at Kauai Ranch, a private and picturesque cattle ranch located on the east side of Kauai.
Six Days / Seven Nights
Harrison Ford and Anne Heche jumping off a cliff to escape their captors was filmed on Makawehi Bluff (known as “Shipwreck’s Cliff”) next to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. Other locations in this film include Kipu Kai beach, Papaa Bay and the Napali Coast.
Mighty Joe Young
Like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Mighty Joe Young seemed to favor Jurassic Kahili Ranch’s 2,800 acres of open space and lush greenery on the north shore of Kauai.
Honeymoon in Vegas
Remember that comical scene when Nicolas Cage asks through a pay phone, “is it Kapa-a-a or Kapa-a-a-a?” That was shot in the town of Waimea on the west side of Kauai. The home where the movie was mainly filmed has since been nicknamed the “honeymoon in vegas” home and sits on Anini Beach on the north shore, a great beach for swimming and snorkeling during the summer months.
Lord of the Flies/The Thorn Birds
Kee Beach on the north shore of Kauai, is where several movies have been filmed. Some of the more notable movies are Lord of the Flies and The Thorn Birds.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark depicted Indiana Jones running and swinging by rope in the Huleia River, near Menehune Fishpond.
In 1976, filming the movie King Kong in one of the most remote valleys on Kauai seemed like the perfect location to create “Skull Island”. At least, producers thought so when they filmed King Kong at Kalalau Valley and Honopu Beach on the Napali Coast.
Filmed to depict French Polynesia, Kauai became Haleakaloha Island in the 1960’s classic Donovan’s Reef featuring John Wayne. Recognizable locations filmed in the movie include the Allerton Estate Home at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, King Kong Mountain, Ahukini Landing and much of Kauai’s coconut coast. Being filmed over 50 years ago, it’s interesting to see what Kauai once was.
Of course, we can’t forget about Elvis Presley crooning his infamous hits in the movie Blue Hawaii, complete with hula girls and grass huts. Much of the movie was filmed at the Coco Palms Hotel in Wailua, which has been closed since Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt.
Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair at Lumahai Beach on the north shore of Kauai in the 1950’s musical classic South Pacific. Mount Makana, which can be seen from just about anywhere on the north shore and towers over Tunnels Beach, was Bali Hai in the movie.
Filming and working on Kauai is like a perpetual vacation for those in the entertainment business, making it a destination of choice for film locales. With Hollywood coming to our shores for over 50 years, you can bet that the next blockbuster will be heading our way. And when you see it on the big screen, you will say to yourself, “I’ve been there.”