An Island Act

Movie Tours brings the silver screen to life

By: Marty Wentzel

As I climbed into the 12-passenger van for Hawaii Movie Tours’ 4x4 Off-Road adventure, I felt an immediate kinship with my fellow participants. All of us had booked the trip because we get a kick out of visiting film sites.

Who cares if the celebrities have flown home and the sets have been packed up? The scenery looks just like it does in the movies, and that’s what brought us together.

Kauai’s photogenic waterfalls, cliffs, beaches and forests have captivated movie audiences worldwide for years, and stars like Harrison Ford and Mitzi Gaynor have been immortalized in films shot on the island. But while aging actors lose their good looks, Kauai’s glamour is timeless.

Our guide, Guy McKiniry, turned on the van’s video screen and played scenes from Kauai-based classics as he drove us around. We watched clips from movies that were filmed at Hanamaulu Bay, like “Voodoo Island,” “Pagan Love Song,” “Six Days/Seven Nights” and “To End All Wars,” then we looked out of the van and saw the same backdrop firsthand.

At Opaekaa Falls, we envisioned a Hollywood cast and crew filming “Donovan’s Reef,” “Wackiest Ship in the Army,” and “Lt. Robinson Crusoe, USN.” Gazing down at the Wailua River and Kamokila Village, used in “Outbreak,” we learned that movie-
makers chose the setting because it looks like Africa.

At 180-foot Wailua Falls, made famous in the opening of the “Fantasy Island” television series, McKiniry told us about the ingenuity necessary to film at this remote site.

“Some producers used helicopters to transport actors to the base of the falls, while others worked with ropes and cranes,” he said.

Between stops we played movie trivia, during which my fellow cinema-crazed travelers impressed me with their knowledge of the silver screen.

We spent 45 minutes strolling the grounds of Coco Palms, a hotel made famous by Elvis Presley’s film “Blue Hawaii.”

“We’re the only tour company allowed to visit this property,” said McKiniry. “Ever since Elvis’ movie character got married here, thousands of people have held their weddings at Coco Palms.”

The hotel, closed since 1992’s Hurricane Iniki and undergoing restoration, is slated to reopen in 2008.

“During actual construction, we’ll have to take groups to a different movie location,” said McKiniry, “but once Coco Palms reopens, we’ll put it back into the tour.”

Plans call for converting Elvis’ bungalow, shown in the film, into a movie museum.

At Lydgate Park, over a picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips and drinks, McKiniry told me that Hawaii Movie Tours guides go through six weeks of training. Although McKiniry follows a mental script when leading a tour, he tries to make it sound completely spontaneous.

“I’m a huge John Wayne fan, and I have over 1,000 movies of all kinds in my collection,” he said. “I also love four-wheel-driving, so when I saw the ad for this job, I knew it was perfect for me.”

After lunch came the off-road portion of the tour, as McKiniry navigated up a bumpy, muddy road, boldly splashing through streams and dirtying the van with abandon. During the half-hour drive we watched a documentary about the making of “Jurassic Park,” which was filmed in remote upland areas of the island. As we snapped photos of Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on earth, McKiniry talked about how the Jurassic Park gates were erected for the movie, and about the pains the producers took to return the site to its original appearance after the shoot. I could almost hear the dinosaurs roaring through the jungle.

Like all good movies, the 4x4 tour came to an end much too soon. McKiniry told us that Hawaii Movie Tours is planning to upgrade the experience by adding larger flat-screen TVs to the vans. That’s just the incentive I need to take the trip again, kind of like watching a favorite flick for a second time or a third.


Hawaii Movie Tours

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Hawaii Movie Tours takes clients to Kauai locations immortalized on the silver screen.
The 4x4 Off-Road Tour runs Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Rates are $123 per adult and $113 per child ages 5-11.
The company offers smoother land tours in mini-buses each day for $111 per adult and $92 per child.
Hawaii Movie Tours pays 20 percent commission to travel agents.