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Landscapes, camera, action! Hawaii’s top film locations

With 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones and some of the most dramatic scenery imaginable, it’s no wonder filmmakers flock to Hawaii writes Angela Saurine.

Hawaii film locations

Lanikai Beach on the windward coast of Oahu, Hawaii Vacation. Picture: Shutterstock

As our helicopter lifts off the ground, the triumphant theme song from the Indiana Jones movies pumps through our headphones, and I feel my adrenaline rising.

Within minutes we are soaring past the same volcanic peaks the loveable archaeologist flies through after escaping natives chasing him with poison darts by swinging from a vine into the river where a floatplane waits in Raiders of the Last Ark. It may have masqueraded as the Peruvian jungle in the film, but the scene was actually shot on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. The scenery is, quite frankly, gobsmacking. On our 45-minute Safari Helicopters flight, we glide over deep, green valleys peppered with hundreds of towering waterfalls and the astonishing rippled cliffs of the Nāpali Coast, which acted as a natural fortress for the first Polynesian settlers who arrived in Hawaii from the Marquesas Islands.

Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg was so taken with Kauai’s lush landscapes, he stored it in his memory bank and returned more than a decade later to shoot another blockbuster, Jurassic Park. The first views audiences see of the fictional Central American island Isla Nublar from the helicopter in the movie are also the Nāpali Coast. Our tour also flies over Manawaiopuna Falls, where a group of scientists land on a helipad built especially for the film, in the Hanapēpē Valley. As the waterfall lies on private property, this is the best way to see it.

Hawaii film locations

View of Manawaiopuna Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

With more than 60 Hollywood movies made here, film sites can be found all over Kaua‘i, which is also known as the Garden Island. Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge doubled as the jungle in Raiders of the Lost Ark, while Huleia River at Kipu Ranch, just south of the island’s main town of Līhu‘e, provided the location for the temple. Kipu Ranch Adventures offers 4WD tours where you can also see filming locations from Outbreak, The Descendants and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The National Tropical Botanic Garden, Allerton Garden, also featured in the latter when Captain Jack Sparrow – played by Johnny Depp – was searching for the fountain of youth, while in Jurassic Park Sam Neill’s character, paleontologist Dr Alan Grant, finds hatched raptor eggs under its giant Moreton Bay fig trees.

Hawaii film locations

Kipu Ranch Adventures Kauai Hawaii

But when Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai partway through production and devastated the island, Spielberg was forced to look elsewhere to finish shooting. Flying over the most-visited Hawaiian island, O‘ahu, he came across the dramatic Kaʻaʻawa Valley, at Kualoa Ranch. The crew only spent three days there but it starred in one of the most famous scenes, in which Dr Grant and the children run from a herd of dinosaurs and hide under a log. The spot is the most popular place for tourists to snap photos for Instagram on a 1.5-hour movie sites tour. The valley was also home to Hurley’s golf course in the TV series Lost, which filmed every season there, the ATV jump from Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Godzilla’s footprints, which can still be seen. Bones from King Kong: Skull Island lie not far away. Officers also play golf in the valley on the morning of the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor, and war planes fly over it. The 1600-hectare working cattle ranch also offers ATV tours, ziplining, food tours and cruises.

Kaneohe and Kualoa Ranch – Oahu, Hawaii

Around a 30-minute drive away on O‘ahu’s North Shore, the family-friendly Turtle Bay Resort also played a starring role in the romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, while the mermaid pools that featured in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides were also built on its grounds. Jennifer Lawrence and her co-stars also filmed arena scenes for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at the calm, crescent-shaped Kawela Bay near the resort in a scene in which the tributes appear on top of the lake, ready for battle.

Little ones may be more impressed by a visit to Hanapēpē on Kaua‘i, which provided the inspiration for the town that Hawaiian girl Lilo and the stray alien dog Nani she adopts live in the animated Disney comedy Lilo and Stitch. The main street is lined with colourful plantation-style buildings that house art galleries and gift stores selling Hawaiian handicrafts. The town is famous for its swinging bridge, which sways when people walk across it. The best time to visit is on Friday Art Night, when the street comes alive with live music and food trucks selling Hawaiian specialties – and you can chat with local artists in store.

Hanapēpē Hawaii. Picture: Shutterstock

An underwater film crew was also sent to Kealakekua Bay on Island of Hawaii , colloquially known as The Big Island, to collect footage of the pristine reef, which has a sharp drop off, to inspire animators for Finding Nemo. Visitors can snorkel among the bright tropical fish and coral on a tour with Fair Wind Cruises, which also takes in the monument to explorer Captain Cook that marks his final resting place for a bonus bit of history.


  • Hawaii has six major islands that tourists can visit – Oahu, Maui, Island of Hawaii (The Big Island), Kauai, Molokai and Lanai.
  • The main entry point is Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on O‘ahu. From there, inter-island flights operate between the islands.
  • Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959.
  • The average daytime temperature at sea level ranges from 29.4ºC in summer (May to October) to 25.6ºC in winter (November to April). At night, temperatures are around 12ºC cooler.
  • Most Australian holidaymakers are eligible to travel to Hawaii via the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) system as part of the USA’s visa waiver program. You must apply in advance and it costs US$14.
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