tunnels beach on kauai where soul surfer was filmed

Tunnels Beach on the North Shore of Kauai where Soul Surfer was filmed.

If you visited Kauai in the recent past and that big (big) handsome guy squeezing mangos next to you at the farmers market looked an awful lot like Dwayne Johnson, it probably was Dwayne Johnson. The prolific actor, aka “The Rock”, recently shot back-to-back big-budget films here. His Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) shot on the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon and the spectacular Old Koloa Sugar Mill, while his Jungle Cruise (2020) co-starring Emily Blunt filmed for months on the Kapaia Reservoir.

Hollywood has long had a love affair with Kauai: it’s where Indiana Jones eluded a huge rolling boulder, where Jurassic raptors chased terrified scientists, where King Kong palmed a teeny, screaming damsel, and where Gilligan bumbled his crew’s first rescue. Here, countless planes have crashed, ships have wrecked, fantasies have been fulfilled and couples have gotten amorous in the sand. In fact, there have been some 70 TV series and movies filmed in Kauai in as many years. And for good reason! The island is one of the most naturally stunning destinations on the planet. Turquoise waters, exotic foliage, soaring emerald cliffs, thundering waterfalls, deep red canyons. With ideal year-round climate, the friendliest locals, and a short plane ride from Los Angeles, the Garden Isle is a filmmaker’s dream.

Kauai Filmmaking, Take One!

The first of all Hollywood movies filmed on Kauai was 1934’s White Heat, a controversial melodrama about a white plantation owner who hooks up with a native woman. Lois Weber was America’s first-ever female director, and though she had helmed some 100 silent films before it, White Heat was to be her first (and last) “talkie.” Shot entirely on location at Waimea and Kekaha Plantations, Weber used the workers as extras and timed the filming with that year’s sugar harvest to capture the climactic moment when the distraught heroine sets the cane field on fire.

A Few Hollywood Highlights

So which movies were filmed in Kauai? Here is just a short sampling:

South Pacific (1958) — This smash musical starring Mitzi Gaynor was shot on Kauai’s North Shore. Gaynor belted out her signature song “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” right here on Lumaha’i Beach, while other scenes were shot at Ke’e and Makua Beach — all of which have such strong surf they could have washed that actress right out to sea.

She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) — Directed by cult fave Roger Corman, this hokie head-scratcher ended with the shipwrecked villain being eaten by a shark. Jaws it ain’t, but the prolific director cited this Kauai location as his most enjoyable shoot ever.

Blue Hawaii (1961) — Elvis Presley’s first Hawaiian foray found him getting all shook up on Lydgate Beach on the Coconut Coast. The famous wedding scene was shot in the lagoon of the Coco Palms Resort in Kapa’a. Presley never actually drinks a Blue Hawaii cocktail in the film, but he does croon his hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Donovan’s Reef (1963) — John Ford directed the venerable John Wayne and an all-star cast in locations across the island: Waimea Canyon, Ahukini Pier, Hanamaulu Beach, the Wailua River and at Lawai’s Allerton Estate. The Duke reportedly learned to dance the hula while on this trip.

Gilligan’s Island (1964) — The pilot of this slapstick TV shipwreck comedy was filmed on Moloa’a Beach near Princeville Resort. The producers searched Kauai without success for the right boat to be used as the SS Minnow. Finally locating a good candidate in Oahu, they had the boat air lifted onto a barge and sent to the Skipper and friends on Kauai’s North Shore.

King Kong (1976)— Insiders claim that with his remake of the 1933 original, Dino De Laurentiis was trying to outdo Jaws by producing an even bigger-budget action-horror-adventure. Starring Jeff Bridges and introducing a 26-year-old Jessica Lange, the film was shot on the breathtaking Na Pali Coast, Tunnels Beach and Makana Mountain. And though it was visually spectacular, few critics went ape over it.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1983) — George Lucas’ beloved blockbuster starring Harrison Ford was shot in some of the most remote areas of Kauai while other locations are readily accessible to curious film buffs. Though the rope that Indiana Jones famously swung over the Hule’ia Stream has been reduced to rotted shreds, it is still visible. Some nice folks have even tied on a fresh rope if anyone’s up for taking the plunge Indy style.

Body Heat (1981) — (Spoiler alert!) At the end of this steamy plot twister directed by talented storyteller, Lawrence Kasdan, Kathleen Turner’s conniving character reclines contentedly on Tunnels Beach — her idea of paradise. Was it worth crushing William Hurt’s character to get there? It does look awfully nice . . .

The Thorn Birds (1983) — In this wildly popular TV miniseries, Wailua Beach, Hanapepe and the North Shore double as Australia’s Queensland, an area also known for sugarcane. Richard Chamberlain’s tortured Father Ralph arrives on Ke’e Beach to get cozy (and then some) with Rachel Ward’s Meggie. Forbidden love always seems a little more excusable in paradise. . .

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) — In Waimea town, Nicolas Cage’s confused character yelled into a pay phone, “Is it Kapa-a-a or Kapa-a-a-a?” Also, the house featured in many scenes is on Anini Beach with more footage shot at Lawai’s National Tropical Botanical Garden. Insiders report that there were funny on-set antics between Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker and James Caan, but apparently what happens on Honeymoon in Vegas, stays on Honeymoon in Vegas.

Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) — Not exactly Indiana Jones, but Harrison Ford returned to Kauai to play the lead in this romantic romp with Anne Heche. Where was Six Days, Seven Nights filmed? On the Na Pali Coast, in Papa’a Bay near Anahola in the northeast, and on the South Shore. In a favorite scene the duo leapt from the huge peak at the edge of Shipwreck Beach and today Instagramming thrillseekers try to mimic this jump (which is against the law and very dangerous — especially for the sea turtles below).

Tropic Thunder (2008) — Writer-director-star Ben Stiller’s hilarious send up was buoyed by the likes of Tom Cruise, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. The thick, jungle-esque foliage behind Wailua Falls doubled for Vietnam and the production was then considered the biggest in the island’s history. Stiller hired countless locals and brought some $60 million to the economy.

The Descendants (2011) — This Academy Award-winning comedy/drama featured George Clooney covering a lot of ground on Kauai. The family saga features great shots on the North Shore, Lihue airport, remote Kipu Kai, the famed Tahiti Nui bar (filled with locals), and long stretches along pristine Hanalei Bay. Director Alexander Payne presented these shores with a thoughtful, loving eye.

Soul Surfer (2011) — Beautiful Tunnels Beach was featured once again but this time was the actual beach from the storyline. In case you’ve been living under a lava rock, Kauai local Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark bite while surfing Tunnels at the tender age of 13 — and this was her story. Hamilton performed all of the one-armed stunts in the film for actress AnnaSophia Robb, and the visuals offer a lot to sink your teeth into.

Jurassic World (2015) — This sequel to the eye-popping Jurassic Park (1993) had a tough act to follow, but a handful of years and a few tech innovations later, Jurassic World is a visual feast. The majestic and lush Na Pali Cliffs dazzle at sunset, the 400-foot plunge of Manawaiopuna Falls inspires awe, and the rugged Olokele Canyon and Moreton Bay Fig trees are more than brontosaurus-worthy.

Year after year, film buffs arrive to seek out their favorite movies filmed on Kauai — either on their own or by joining one of the many tours offered. Come stay with us at Koloa Landing Resort where our concierge is ready to help. (Brown adventure fedoras, dinosaur binoculars and monster ape repellent come standard, of course.)

by Erica Karlin — Koloa Landing Resort