Kauai Movie Buff Alert!

Beach on Napali Coast by Nenad Radojcic


While visiting Kauai, we learned of many places that have served as perfect settings for film and video. More than 70 movies and television series have used the island of Kauai for settings that have depicted a vast array of world locations, both real and fantastical!

Hanalei Valley

Many of the spots can still be visited today, and, inadvertently, we did! Others are tougher, as they are on private property or only accessible by air or boat. But Hollywood has loved Kauai since the 1934 melodrama “White Heat” was filmed on Kauai.

Where the Wailua River meets the Pacific Ocean

1950’s “Pagan Love Song” was filmed on Wailua Beach, which also represented Australia’s Queensland for the 1983 TV miniseries, “The Thorn Birds” with Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward.


Lumaha’i Beach



We can easily picture Mitzi Gaynor washing that man right out of her hair on Lumaha’i Beach in 1958.



Remains of Coco Palms Resort




The entire “South Pacific” cast stayed at the once glorious Coco Palm Resort.



Hanalei Bay


Of course, featured was the famed Hanalei Bay, as well as Mount Makana towering over Tunnels Beach, serving as “Bali Hai.”


Tunnels Beach and Mount Makana


Makua Beach is nicknamed Tunnels Beach because of the many lava tube caves under the water’s surface. But it’s the sandy surface that has captured makers of several films since South Pacific.


Makua aka Tunnels Beach with Mt. Makana

Among the better-known is 1981’s “Body Heat with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. Never mind 1958’s “She Gods of Shark Reef,” but 2011 “Soul Surfer” was also made at Tunnels Beach, and tells the harrowing, true story of teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm to a shark attack. Hamilton does her surfing stunt work in “Soul Surfer,” reflecting her dramatic comeback.

Hanalei Bay

Lydgate Beach


Of course, 1961’s “Blue Hawaii” found Elvis Presley romping on the Coconut Coast, Hanalei Bay, and at Lydgate Beach.


The lagoon at the old Coco Palms Resort



The famous wedding scene was filmed in the lagoon of the Coco Palms Resort in Kapa’a.


Ke’e Beach on Napali Coast


Other famous Kauai film beaches include Ke’e Beach, for scenes in “The Thornbirds” and 1990’s “Lord of the Flies,” along with Danny Devito and Billy Crystal’s “Throw Mama from the Train.” That 1987 release was also filmed at Kauai’s Kalihiwai Beach.

Moloa’a Beach and Bay



Though the tv series was done in the Bahamas, “Gilligan’s Island” was on Kauai’s Moloa’a Beach and Bay for the 1964 pilot and first episode.



Kukuiula Harbor



The lists go on and on…. 1977’s “Islands in the Stream” was filmed in Kukuiula Harbor.


Jurassic Ranch



1998’s “Mighty Joe Young,” used the north shore’s Jurassic Kahili Ranch.



Mahaulepu Beach


1974’s “Castaway Cowboy” was filmed on Mahaulepu Beach.



Sign in historic Hanapepe


Even 2002’s animated feature film “Lilo & Stitch” used the tiny town of Hanapepe and the North Shore’s Kilauea Lighthouse as inspirations, and 2009’s “Avatar” chose Kauai for its non-CGI scenes.

Kilauea Lighthouse

Kipu Kai photo credit to Parrish Kauai


Kipukai Beach set the scene for 1991’s “Hook” and also played host to 1998’s “Six Days, Seven Nights.”  That film brought Harrison Ford back to the Napali Coast. It’s hard to forget the crazy leap he and Anne Heche made of Shipwreck’s Cliff to escape the pirates.

Shipwreck Beach and Cliff


Of course, Ford’s first foray into filmmaking in Kauai happened for 1981’s blockbuster, “Raiders of the Lost Ark, filmed near Lihue’s Menehune Fishpond on the Hule’ia River.


Famous cast members are not likely to balk at going on location to Kauai.

Waimea Canyon

Ahukini State Recreational Pier




1963’s “Donovan’s Reef” brought John Wayne and the cast to settings in Waimea Canyon and at the Ahukini Pier.




Hanamaulu Beach


Filmmakers also used Kauai’s Hanamaulu Beach and the Wailua River in representing Haleakaloha Island and French Polynesia.



Wailua River

Napali Coast photo by Kathy VanDeventer

Mt. Makana and Tunnels Beach


The 1976 remake of “King Kong” brought Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange to settings from Tunnels Beach and the Napali Coast to the idyllic surroundings of Makana Mountain.


Jo Jo’s Shave Ice in Waimea town


1992’s    “Honeymoon in Vegas” with Nicholas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Caan, featured several Kauai settings.


National Tropical Botanical Gardens


These ranged from the town of Waimea to the Lawai National Tropical Botanical Gardens.




Wailua Falls photo by Zane Persaud


The 2008 action comedy “Tropic Thunder” with Tom Cruise and Robert Downey, Jr was set against the dense backwoods of Kauai and the Wailua Falls, not in Vietnam at all.


Hanalei Bay

The Descendants” with George Clooney set the 2011 release on Kauai’s North Shore, at Lihue Airport, and at Hanalei Bay.


Napali Coast photo by Casey Horner



Not stopping there, they also filmed along the Napali Coast, Kipu Kai, the famed Tahiti Nui Bar, Kipu Ranch, and the Kipukai Beach overlook, along with the towering waterfalls cascading down Mt. Namolokama.




Mt. Namolokama with its lengthy waterfalls

Honopu Beach on Napali Coast photo by Chor Tsang


2019’s “Fast & the Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” brought Dwayne Johnson to Honopu Beach on the Napali Coast and into the Kalalau Valley.



Johnson returned to Kauai for his thoroughly delightful 2021 “Jungle Cruise” Disney film. They worked on the Wailua River, not the Amazon.

Opaeka’a Falls



Other scenes included the Kilohana Plantation Railway, Kapaia Reservoir, and the popular Opaeka’a Falls. What fun it was to stand looking at actual settings from films we have enjoyed!



Wailua Falls


Waterfalls always have a giant pull on filmmakers. 1978 – 1984 The hit weekly television series “Fantasy Island” brought Ricardo Montalban to Kauai and featured the Wailua Falls and Wailua River State Park.


Olokele Canyon


With all the Jurassic films taking advantage of Kauai, it’s no wonder people still look for dinosaurs in the Olokele Canyon or on the Napali cliffs from 2015’s “Jurassic World.”



Napali Coast photo by Kathering Loydall

Moreton Bay Fig Tree roots



And standing amidst Moreton Bay Fig trees with roots as big as 5 feet tall, you just might find yourself looking for some dinosaur eggs.




Manawaiopuna Falls



Here’s an interesting side note. While filmmakers took advantage of Kauai’s 400-foot Mauawaiopuna Falls for 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” with just one day of filming remaining in the summer of 1992, Category 4 Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai. Filmmaking stopped.




Ruins of Coco Palms Resort


The Coco Palms Resort, the once glamorous playground for the rich and famous, was destroyed, along with more than half the homes on the island.


Poipu Beach

Honopu Arch

But Kauai’s resilience remains remarkable. They were back to hosting filmmakers within a year. One which used various sites on Kaua’i was 2011’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Johnny Depp was brought onto the scene at the Honopu Arch on the Napali Coast by helicopter. Visitors today can get there by boat.

And these tidbits are just about Kaua’i, the Garden Island. Whether we are movie buffs or not, there are several more islands, and they are all most assuredly worth visiting for the true star power of the scenery.

North Shore Sunset

About Cathy Burnham Martin

Author of 20+ books, and counting! A professional voice-over artist, dedicated foodie, and lifelong corporate communications geek, Cathy Burnham Martin has enjoyed a highly eclectic career, ranging from the arts and journalism to finance, telecommunications, and publishing. Along with her husband, Ron Martin, she has passions for entertaining, gardening, volunteering, active and visual arts, GREAT food, and traveling. Cathy often says, "I believe that we all should live with as much contagious enthusiasm as possible... Whether we're with friends or family, taking people along for the ride is more than half the fun."
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