TripAdvisor honors a ranch that caters to filmmakers and shares its beautiful sets
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Apr 11, 2011
David Morgan remembers, as a boy growing up on his family's North Shore ranch, sneaking a peek at the filming of one of Elvis Presley's lesser-known movies.
Hawaii starsSome movies and TV shows filmed at Kualoa Ranch:
>> “Karate Kid” (1984)
>> “Jurassic Park” (1993)
>> “Godzilla” (2000)
>> “Pearl Harbor” (2001)
>> “50 First Dates” (2004)
>> “Journey to a Mysterious Island” (2011)
>> “Battleship” (2012)
>> “Magnum, P.I.” (TV, 1980-1988)
>> “Lost” (TV, 2004-2010)
>> “Hawaii Five-0” (TV, old and new versions)
>> “Off the Map” (TV)
Some movies filmed on Kauai:
>> “South Pacific” (1949)
>> “Blue Hawaii” (1961)
>> “Donovan’s Reef” (1963)
>> “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1983)
>> “Six Days, Seven Nights” (1998)
>> “Avatar” (2010)
>> “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011)
>> “Just Go with It” (2011)
>> “The Descendants” (2011)
>> “Soul Surfer” (2011)
Visit hollywood without leaving Hawaii>> Kualoa Movie Sites and Ranch Tour: Guests take a one-hour narrated bus tour across Kualoa and into Kaaawa Valley to see where many of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters have been filmed. Guests learn about the history of Kualoa as they explore movie sites, including the “Jurassic Park” log, Godzilla’s footprints and the “Windtalkers” battleground. Tours are $23 for adults and $15 for children. Kamaaina rates, which require a local ID, are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Movie tours can also be combined with other packages. Information: www.kualoa.com/tours/movie-sites-ranch-tour
>> Kauai Movie Adventure: $95.56 per adult and $64.69 for children ages 3 to 11 when booked online at www.polyad.com. Information: www.polyad.com/kauai/alii_movie_tour_scenic_hanalei
"He had flown to a remote beach with a lady on a helicopter," said Morgan, who now serves as Kualoa Ranch's director of operations. "We went out to watch but decided that even with a big star, it was way boring watching them film a movie."
Flash forward more than a few decades, and Morgan's appreciation for the film industry has broadened. Not only does the industry provide Kualoa with steady business as a set for films, but it has also made Kualoa a draw for visitors wanting to see where movies are made.
Kualoa Ranch was one of two Hawaii film tour companies to recently make a list of the nation's 10 most popular film tours on TripAdvisor, a popular travel booking and review site.
Kualoa Ranch's movie tour took sixth place behind top-ranked tours in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. The tour includes a bus ride to film locations from "Jurassic Park," "Godzilla," "Pearl Harbor," "50 First Dates" and "You, Me and Dupree."
On Kauai, Polynesian Adventure Tours' movie tour ranked seventh. This tour makes stops where "South Pacific," "White Heat," "Fantasy Island" and "Jurassic Park" were filmed. It also offers a stop at the now-closed Coco Palms Resort, where Presley stayed while filming his 1962 hit "Blue Hawaii."
Kualoa, which occupies 4,000 acres along Oahu's northeastern coast and which just celebrated its 160th year, has been involved in cattle ranching since the 1870s. The ranch began when Dr. Gerrit Judd bought 622 acres in 1850 from King Kamehameha III.
In addition to serving as a set for movies and a place to run movie tours, the ranch provides recreational activities including ATV tours, horseback rides, ocean voyaging and hula lessons as well as tours of its 800-year-old Molii Fishpond, gardens and remote valley.
Commercials, TV shows, films and stills at first played a very minor role at Kualoa Ranch, said John Morgan, David's brother and president of Kualoa Ranch.
"‘Mister Roberts' was the first film shot at the ranch in the 1950s," Morgan said. "We became more active in filming in the 1970s, but it was a relatively small portion of our operations."
In more recent times, use of the ranch as a set and opening up those sites for tours are becoming a more significant part of their business, said the brothers, who are part of a family of sixth-generation ranch owners.
"Of late, filming is much more important due to the revenue it can generate and the relatively low cost attached to it for us," Morgan said. "Kualoa's strengths are the natural beauty and culture of the place."
Currently, the CBS hit "Hawaii Five-0" regularly films at the ranch, and ABC's "Off the Map" has two permanent sites, he said. "Journey to the Mysterious Island," the sequel to "Journey to the Center of the Earth," just wrapped up shooting at the ranch, and filmgoers also will have a chance to see more of the ranch when the movie "Battleship" is released in 2012, Morgan said.
Allan and Colleen Berger and their son Chris of Edmonton, Alberta, recently took a film tour on the ranch. The family, which has been coming to Hawaii annually for more than 20 years, said Hawaii's growing Hollywood role enticed them to take Kualoa Ranch's film tour.
"We've driven past it for many years," Allan Berger said. "Now seemed like a good time to go."
"A lot of people that I work with are coming here because of the ‘Hawaii Five-0' series," Colleen Berger said.
The film industry and film tours are natural partners for Hawaii's tourism, said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Because of the visibility that the islands attain, the film industry boosts visitors, he said.
"It speaks to the interests in the movie segment and the quality of the product that we are providing," Uchiyama said. "It's the value of the overall experience that a visitor gets here in Hawaii as compared to other destinations. You can buy a lot of destinations cheaper, but when you come to Hawaii there's no place else that offers the value of the experience."
Kualoa Ranch's terrain also has represented Africa, Ireland, the Amazon, Mexico, the lost city of Atlantis and other faraway destinations, David Morgan said.
The ranch has welcomed film crews from Japan, Korea and Australia, he said.
"No Bollywood yet, but it's coming," Morgan said.
When Nicolas Cage filmed "Windtalkers," Kualoa also was the site of some pretty realistic battles, John Morgan said.
"There were 272 major explosions — the most of any in Hollywood history in one day," he said. "They had the whole valley rigged up with wires and explosives so that they could get the first 20 minutes of the film in one take. It opened craters all over the place, and they had actual medics running through the set."
The ranch will continue to consider opportunities that allow it to share its beauty with a broader audience, Morgan said.
On Kauai, Polynesian Adventure's award-winning movie tour is the newest tour offered by the company, said Lee Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Polynesian Adventure Tours/Gray Line Hawaii.
"It's just 2 years old but already it's very popular," Collins said. "Whenever there are cruise ships, we sell out. On non-cruise ship days, we sell about 90 percent of the seats."
Employees throughout the company gave each other high-fives and grinned from ear to ear when news of their most recent accolade broke, he said.
"We are really proud of our product and of Kauai," Collins said.
The tour, which makes stops throughout Kauai and shows portions of films that were shot there, also shares the history of the place, he said.
"Hollywood loves Kauai. There's nothing like it in the world," Collins said.
The company worked with the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association to make its tours 100 percent authentic, Collins said.
"We are ambassadors for Hawaii," he said. "We get one shot to educate our visitors, and we take that seriously. Kauai has a rich history; we don't have to make stuff up."