Who can forget the scene in Jurassic Park where John Hammond and his guests first arrive on Isla Nublar, their helicopter weaving through valleys of lush rainforest, before landing against the backdrop of a towering waterfall? Or in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where our friend Indy narrowly escapes death at the hands of the natives by swinging onto a seaplane as it prepares to take off? Maybe you preferred Hook or Avatar. Or King Kong. Or Pirates of the Caribbean. Or Tropic Thunder.
So what could unite films about topics ranging from pirates & treasure hunters, to gigantic apes and alien cat-people? All of these blockbusters owe a large part of their cinematic magic to the spellbinding island of Kauai. Kauai is one of the oldest and largest Hawaiian islands, whose natural otherworldly beauty has made it a favorite location for fantasy films. While many TV shows and films are also filmed on the nearby island of Oahu, which is slightly larger and more populous, Kauai is renowned for its untouched natural beauty, making it the preferred choice for environmental enthusiasts.
Nicknamed “The Garden Isle”, 97% of the land on Kauai is used for either conservation or agriculture. Despite the fact that there are three larger islands in Hawaii, Kauai has more beaches, rivers, and waterfalls than any other. This may explain why less than 30% of it is accessible by foot, which only adds to its sense of adventure. To really explore the island, you will have travel by horse, ATV, kayak, helicopter, and even zipline.
Although Kauai is so much harder to navigate than Oahu, and film crews are so hard to move around, the island’s scenery is clearly worth the trouble, as many of the films have returned there for their sequels. For example, all five of the Jurassic Park films were made on Kauai, and (although it’s not technically a sequel) Kong: Skull Island returned to Kauai 41 years after the version starring Jeff Bridges & Jessica Lange. The locals have even nicknamed Kalalea Mountain “Kong Mountain”, due to its resemblance to the giant ape (you can see him in the middle of this photo, looking off to the left).
While the island is a literal paradise for those who love wild, untamed landscapes, movie lovers can take advantage of a guided tour that will bring you to some of its most iconic locations from cinema, such as Opaekaa Falls, Hanalei Pier, and Moloaa Bay. They’ll also play scenes that were filmed there so you know exactly what you’re looking at, and you can even swing from the very same spot as Indiana Jones.
Whether it was by transporting us to a world of cloned dinosaurs, or kicking off our search for the ark of the covenant, Kauai helped shape many of our childhood imaginations. But as magical as the medium of cinema can be, nothing compares to the real thing. So don’t waste any time in planning your trip to Kauai, and in the meantime, you can try out this free virtual tour.