A sleek Mercedes van carries premier tour guests to Kualoa filming sites such as the Indominus Rex paddock built for “Jurassic World.” // © 2017 Kualoa Ranch
Feature image (above): Young Kualoa guests pose by a fallen tree made famous in “Jurassic Park.” // © 2017 Kualoa Ranch
Hollywood has a thing for Kualoa Ranch. For 60 years, the windward Oahu attraction has lured film crews with its spectacular natural assets, from chiseled peaks and vast valleys to beaches straight out of a picture postcard.
With the recent launch of Kualoa’s Premier Movie Sites Tour, clients now can see and interact with its filming locations and leftover sets and props in VIP fashion.
Introduced in mid-2016, the 2.5-hour tour is an upgraded version of Kualoa’s standard 90-minute movie-site itinerary, which I experienced during an earlier visit. This time, instead of riding around in a vintage school bus, we were transported in an air-conditioned Mercedes van. The premier tour also provided a more intimate flavor by sticking to a 12-guest maximum.
The new option is ideal for hard-core fans of the silver screen. According to our guide, Erik, two people on a recent tour came dressed as characters from “Jurassic World,” the 2015 addition to the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and dished out dialogue from the flick whenever they reached one of its filming sites.
Our tour started at Kualoa's Wall of Fame, which features photos of celebrities who have filmed at the ranch, such as Jack Lemmon (“Mister Roberts,” 1955), Elvis Presley (“Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” 1966) and Adam Sandler (“50 First Dates,” 2004).
As Erik ushered us into the van, he handed out popcorn and M&Ms to get us into the movie mood. He noted that unlike most of the ranch’s activities, our tour was designed with built-in flexibility. That in mind, he invited us to ask lots of questions and request stops if the urge struck.
"Just let me know, and I'll accommodate you guys, as long as it's legal and safe," he joked.
Clearly, Erik was a cinema buff, and he knew his stuff. During the tour, he talked about the dozens of movies and television shows filmed at Kualoa, along with facts about the 4,000-acre ranch and its rich history.
As Erik drove us from site to site, he spun behind-the-scenes stories about the making of various movies and shows. We saw original World War II bunkers that had been converted into sets for “Hawaii Five-0.” We got up-close to props such as a giant lizard egg from “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and a submarine from TV show “Lost.” Erik snapped photos of us as we posed behind the wheel of a Pinzgauer truck used in “Jurassic World.”
Cruising through expansive pastures in the comfort of our van, we stopped at places where dinosaurs roamed in “Jurassic Park.” We marveled at enormous footprints created for 1998’s “Godzilla,” and we saw the road on which Lucy (Drew Barrymore) drives home in “50 First Dates.”
Often, Erik encouraged us to disembark and take pictures of our favorite spots. To enhance the van ride, he played clips of scenes showing the same sites as they appeared in the final productions.
A highlight for our group was a stop at a structure built for “Jurassic World.” In the movie, it serves as the Indominus Rex paddock, and we could still see dinosaur scratches on the walls. As I walked in and around the massive building, it was easy to imagine actors Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reading their lines right where we stood.
By the end of the tour through this stunning spread, it was obvious why Kualoa is such a hit with Hollywood bigwigs. However, the ranch’s popularity with the film industry extends beyond its good looks, Erik explained.
“We attract them because of our hospitality,” he said. “We just ask that they leave the environment the way it looked before they arrived. The way we see it, working with TV and movie-makers pays off not only for Kualoa, but for the local economy.”