As “Hawaii Five-0” moves into the holiday season, it unfortunately leaves fans with only a few treats before the show goes on hiatus for Christmas.
This week, CBS replayed last year’s popular Thanksgiving episode. Next week is a true black Friday — there is no episode scheduled for Dec. 5. “Five-0” will return Dec. 12 with a Christmas-themed episode, “Ke Koho Mamao Aku,” which roughly translates as “Longshot.”
The cool element of this year’s Christmas episode is the fact it was partially shot on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Local residents call Hawaii island “the Big Island” because it is the largest island of the eight that make up our state.
It is also one of the most amazing places to visit, as you can feasibly surf and snowboard on the same day. You can also find black, red, green and white sand beaches. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is a fascinating place where you can crawl through lava tubes and hike Chain of Craters Road to watch the lava from Kīlauea spill into the ocean.
When “Five-0 Redux” contributor and Hawaiian language expert T. Ilihia Gionson was appointed Big Island film commissioner in March, I suggested that “Five-0” could really make a big splash by shooting on that island. So when the Christmas episode was promoted as being shot there, I asked Gionson about the process he went through to get “Five-0” to bring their cast and crew to his beautiful home.
“Since the modern ‘Hawaii Five-0’ launched, Mayor Billy Kenoi made bringing the show to Hawaii island a priority,” he said. Gionson’s predecessor, John Mason, had lobbied the production team and they came to scout locations in 2012. After Mason retired at the end of 2013, “the fruit of his efforts were realized this year,” Gionson said.
Gionson flew to Los Angeles and met with executive producer Peter Lenkov in March, shortly after “Five-0” was renewed for season five.
“(Lenkov) let me know then that an episode featuring Hawaii island prominently would be a part of the new season,” he said.
“Hawaii Five-0” production members visited in August to scout locations and work with Gionson and his office. They shot “Ke Koho Mamao Aku” in September after the Sunset on the Beach premiere.
“I was on set to make sure everything went smoothly, as the two locations where ‘Five-0’ filmed have never hosted this level of production before,” he said. “I stayed out of the way for the most part, but it was great seeing familiar faces hired on island and meeting the members of the Oʻahu-based crew. Everyone was very professional, very nice.”
While Gionson was impressed by the “Five-0” crew, he was also pleased by how many Hawai‘i island police officers were hired as extras.
“I got an overwhelming response from our department and the casting department got lots of great options to choose from for the episode,” he said.
Gionson also talked about the two locations where “Five-0” was shot.
“One day of shooting was on the slopes of Mauna Loa at a University of Hawaii site called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation). It’s 8,200 feet above sea level, very dry, lots of red rock,” he said. “If you don’t turn around to see majestic Mauna Kea just across the way, it looks a lot like Mars. In fact, HI-SEAS is funded by NASA to conduct isolation studies in preparation for an extended mission to Mars.
“We caught HI-SEAS at just the right time. Shortly after the shoot, the next crew of six went up to HI-SEAS for an eight month mission.”
The second day of shooting was at a home in remote Kalapana Gardens in the Puna district of the island.
“About 120 houses in the Kalapana Gardens subdivision were wiped out in the early 1990s, covered in 50 feet of lava. In 2001, “Planet of the Apes” shot on the barren lava where the neighborhood once was,” Gionson said.
In the last few years, however, newcomers to the island bought land from pre-flow owners and built their dream homes in the area.
“Imagine about 40 houses scattered far and wide over stark black lava,” said Gionson. “No electricity, county water, wired phones or cable. Kalapana Gardens has become an eclectic community of folks (who) wanted to get away from it all.
“(Kalapana Gardens was) excited to host such a big production in their usually quiet neighborhood. One man up the road told me he was an extra on the original ‘Five-O’ as a little boy. During the shoot, we could hear the sounds of bulldozers and helicopters in the distance. They were working on rebuilding Chain of Craters Road as an alternate route into Lower Puna, as the main highway into the area was threatened by the latest lava flow.”
While Gionson was sworn to secrecy about sharing plot elements and photos from the shoot, I definitely know he was happy and proud to be able to show off the beauty and uniqueness of his home island on “Hawaii Five-0.”
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.