Normally, I wouldn’t recommend visiting a location just because a movie was shot there, but in Hawaii there’s a different dynamic at work. It’s expensive to haul the cast, crew and building materials halfway across the Pacific, and the only reason it happens is because backdrops like these are hard to come by on the mainland.
Sniffing out old set locations takes you to some of the most spectacular, screen-worthy landscapes on the islands. All are relatively secluded, with many on private property. Every beach in Hawaii is public access (that’s the law), and private property borders officially begin at the vegetation line. With this in mind, explore the sand at will, but don’t take that as license to impose.
Here are a few Hawaiian beaches that have starred in big-ticket productions:
Wailua – Blue Hawaii
Elvis brought the world to Hawaii’s northernmost island (Kauai) in 1961. The lazy beach scenes were filmed at the now-derelict Coco Palms Resort, a Kauai icon that has since given way to bigger resorts in Hawaii. For a look inside, contact Hawaii Movie Tours, the only company with permission to enter Coco Palms.
Only about 20 percent of Kauai is inhabited. The rest is made up of thick jungles and dramatic cliffs that have been the backdrop for adventure epics like Jurassic Park, King Kong and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Short of strapping on a backpack and disappearing into the Na Pali Coast for a few days, the best way to explore is with a chartered helicopter. If you really want to irritate your pilot, ask her to recreate the Jurassic Park landing scene at Manawaiopuna Falls.
Hamakua Coast – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Those Peruvian rainforest scenes from the latest Indy installment were shot all along the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. This is Amazonian-caliber jungle, with rocky headlands and a few spits of black sand.
The Hamakua Coast is north of Waimea, accessible from the Hawaii Belt road (HI-19). The only off-highway section that can be explored with a rental car is the six-kilometer Heritage Drive loop. It takes in a few villages and abandoned sugar plantations on the coast. This is prime hiking country, with a string of dramatic gorges that each has its own waterfall and secluded beach.
Police Beach – Lost
The series may be on its way out, but the beaches live on. The great thing about Lost beaches is that they’re as attractive as they are difficult to find. That means the same tricks that kept nosey fans from slipping in and taking pictures of their favorite actors will keep you in relative seclusion.
The best Lost beaches are on the North Shore of Oahu, within a short drive of most hotels in Hawaii. Police Beach (Papailoa Beach) was the survivors’ base camp in the first couple of seasons, but there are dozens of other cliffs, valleys and beaches in this area that Lost fans will recognize.
Waipio Valley – Waterworld
I’m outing myself on this one. I like Waterworld. I know it’s cool to make fun of movies Kevin Costner was in, and believe me, I can poke fun at KC with the best of them. But this movie was different. I mean, the main character has gills and super swimming abilities, and there’s not a stitch of Marvel spandex in sight. That’s a rare treat.
Waterworld was filmed on the Big Island in Kohala’s Kawaihae Harbor, but the real find is around the north side of the island in Waipio Valley. Walled in by 800-meter cliffs on three sides, Waipio is open to the sea and stars as center stage in a host of poignant Hawaiian myths. This is where the final scene of the movie was filmed, and the kilometer-long ‘road’ leading in loses 240 meters on its way to the valley floor.
Once the seat of Hawaiian royalty and 40,000 residents, Waipio’s black-sand beach went on to house immigrants who worked for local sugar plantations in the 1800s. A tsunami drove them out in 1946, but wild descendents of the horses they kept still roam the valley, cropping grass next to the pack of Suzuki Samurais driven in by early-morning surfers.
Only 4WD vehicles are allowed in, but you can drive a rental car to the overlook and decide if you’re up to the hike. The Waipio Valley Shuttle is probably more practical, but I doubt KC would approve.