Ka’a’awa Valley: Where the Cows and the Dinosaurs Roam

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I’m definitely no stranger to the film tourism phenomenon. I’ve seen my fair share of bare hills, snow-capped mountains, river-strewn valleys and patches of forests in New Zealand that starred in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Yes, I’m one of THOSE people.

The people who seek out locations that were used as backdrops for their favorite movies or TVs shows, long after the sets have been demolished and good ol’ Mother Nature has moved back in to reclaim them.

Ka'a'awa Valley, Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Some people simply want that small taste of Hollywood. Others want to stand in the same spots that their favorite actors and actresses did. And yet others, like myself, just enjoy seeing familiar scenery and getting that tingle down the spine that tells you, “this is pretty damn cool.”

This last tingly scenario is what I was going for when I signed up for a “Movie Sites and Ranch Tour” at Kualoa Ranch near Kaneohe on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

The 4,000-acre ranch, while being an active cattle ranch, is also a popular stop on the Oahu tourist trail. Many tour buses can be spotted at all times of the afternoon on any given day.

How it became such a popular stop isn’t difficult to understand, though. Kualoa is marketed for fun. You can go horseback riding, tour gardens, go on ATV adventures, take hula lessons, visit a petting zoo, or simply take a scenic tour that offers some spectacular views of the Hawaiian coastline. The ranch is lucky to be set both right near the Kaneohe coast, and the majestic Ko’olau mountain range.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

It’s because of its awe-inspiring location that Kualoa Ranch — and its amazing Ka’a’awa Valley — is one of Hawaii’s most popular filming locations for both feature films and popular TV shows. Movies like “Jurassic Park,” “Windtalkers,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Tears of the Sun” and “50 First Dates” have filmed scenes here, as have TV shows like “Hawaii Five-O,” “LOST” and “Off the Map.”

I decided I had to check it out.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Since I was already galavanting around the island on my last day in Hawaii, I decided to squeeze in a tour at Kualoa Ranch. TheBus dropped me off right outside the ranch’s gates, and I went inside the gift shop/concession stand/reservations office to book myself on a tour.

After getting my ticket, it wasn’t long before I — along with about 6 others — was herded onto a large open-air bus emblazoned with the ranch’s name.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

We trundled through a few ranch gates, where our guide told us a little history about the ranch. The land used to be considered one of the most sacred places on the island of Oahu, and was owned by the Hawaiian King until the mid-1800s. The land was then sold to a man by the last name of Judd, and was used for various purposes over the centuries.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii
The site of Hawaii's first sugar mill.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor — on the opposite side of the island — during World War II, the military decided they needed some land on Kualoa’s side of Oahu to keep an eye out for future attacks. They rented some land from the ranch, and built an auxiliary airstrip and several bunkers there.

Our first stop on the tour was the largest of the remaining bunkers, which was built right into the side of the mountains. The bunker — featured in the movie “Pearl Harbor” and also in the TV show “LOST” as the DHARMA Initiative station called The Tempest — is now used as a mini museum.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Inside, the bunker’s walls are lined with photos. One room houses photos and some artifacts from when Kualoa Ranch was used by the military, while all the other walls are covered in photos and posters from the movies and TV shows that have been filmed on the ranch over the years. There’s even a submarine prop on display there.

After our stop at the bunker museum, it was on to the true highlight of the tour — Ka’a’awa Valley. This valley is where many cinematic scenes have been shot, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Ka'a'awa Valley, Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Even though some of the peaks were swathed in cloud while we were in the valley, it was nothing short of breathtaking.

Ka'a'awa Valley, Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Add in some John Williams music from “Jurassic Park” (which our guide did), and that spine-tingling feeling wasn’t far behind.

Our guide stopped once in the valley, allowing us to hop out and take some photos, and then continued her commentary as we rolled through the lush location.

Little elements from certain movies have been left behind in Ka’a’awa Valley, like 4 giant footprints from “Godzilla,” and a few thatched huts here and there from other films like “50 First Dates” and “Mighty Joe Young.” Other filming sites are simply marked by a sign.

Ka'a'awa Valley, Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Much as I was amused by tourists snapping photos of bare hills that once housed hobbit holes in Matamata, New Zealand, I was amused at everyone on the bus taking photos of signs pointing out where a scene in “Windtalkers” or “Hawaii Five-O” was filmed.

But that’s kind of the whole point of a tour like this — to just be touristy and enjoy it. It’s fun to watch a movie or show on TV and say, “I’ve been there.” It’s almost like knowing somebody famous.

Ka'a'awa Valley, Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Other parts of the Kualoa Ranch have also been used for filming — for example, the fish pond currently houses the set for ABC’s “Off the Map,” and was also used to film sub scenes in “LOST” — but were not included in this tour. I half contemplated paying for another tour to those areas, but time and budget constraints made me decide against it.

Our tour wrapped up with a drive back to the main ranch buildings through some native vegetation, where we learned that Hawaii has no snakes, but plenty of mongooses.

Ka'a'awa Valley, Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

This tour isn’t necessarily for everyone. But, if you’re looking for some gorgeous scenery and a little bit of movie magic in Hawaii, then I think it’s worth it.

While I can’t vouch for any other tours other than the one I went on, I’d be inclined to say the views alone are almost worth the ticket price.

Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Want to try out some of the other tours at Kualoa Ranch? Here are a couple to check out:

What about you — would you be inclined to give a tour like this a go while traveling?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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24 Comments on “Ka’a’awa Valley: Where the Cows and the Dinosaurs Roam

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  1. […] — the Diamond Head lookout, Hanauma Bay, Halona blowhole, the Byodo-in Temple, Pali Lookout, Kualoa Ranch, Sunset Beach, the Dole Plantation, and more — but it wasn’t really the sites themselves […]

    50 First Dates is my all time favorite movie! I’m not one to get into the touristy adventures, as I like to go off the map and really get into the history and natural beauty of a place. But this tour would be fantastic! I loved the small town and locals featured in the film. And this tour, like you said, also tells the history of the ranch, which is super cool. Thanks for sharing!

      Yes, learning the history of the ranch and a little more about Hawaii was definitely a plus. I think even non-movie-buffs could enjoy this tour, because it really was a little bit of everything.

    I’m not a huge movie buff so I generally don’t gravitate toward the type of tour that would point out filming locations, however I will admit, it is pretty cool to see something that you’ve seen in a film before! For $23 and those views, I just might be persuaded to do a tour like that!

    In all honestly, I’m open to pretty much anything, and if it comes recommended then I would be willing to give it it a try!

      I will admit that the views were probably better than seeing some of the movie sites. I mean, yes, it was cool to know where certain scenes from movies and TV shows were shot, but I would have been happy with ANY sort of tour through this valley!

    I won’t lie that we tried to find the strip club Orange from Lost in Translation while in Tokyo. Apparently you can’t get in without a chaperon anyway – but we already knew where everything else from the movie was. Yes, I am obsessed.

      Haha, I definitely don’t judge you for being obsessed! It’s fun sometimes, right? Too bad you couldn’t find/get into Orange, though.

    I can totally understand you…seeing San Francisco became an obsession for me after watching Charmed – of course the house is not in SF, but I got to see the city, and I can honestly say, it’s my favorite city in the whole world!

      That’s great! Glad to hear it didn’t disappoint. And I’m sure you liked it just a little bit more, since it starred in one of your favorite shows! I often wonder if that has something to do with how much I love NZ…

    Jurassic Park was one of my favorite movies…I think it still remains the one I’ve seen most number of times! haha I’d love to go on one of those tours, too. Actually, next time I’m in London (and it doesn’t rain… like last week) I’m planning to walk along Dragon Alley!

      Jurassic Park is one of those movies that – as cheesy as it is sometimes – I will watch every single time when it’s on TV. So it was cool to see where parts of it were filmed!

    I’m not huge on film tours unless it is a favourite movie, but I never rule out any activities when travelling. You’ll be disappointed to know that aside from seeing “Mt. Doom” in NZ (and that was accidental), we didn’t see a single Lord of the Rings set or tour here. But I’m not knockin’ ’em =)

      Different strokes for different folks! Like I said, I don’t think a tour like this would be for everyone. At least your honest! And I won’t hold it against you that you didn’t see any “Rings” stuff in NZ. 😉

    This tour looks like so much fun, such gorgeous photos. Sometimes I really like doing cheesy, “touristy” type of things like this. When I was in London I did a Jack The Ripper walking tour. Touristy yes, but it was definitely enjoyable. Movies, tv, books, etc all play a part in our culture, why not see where these creative arts took place?

      I agree – sometimes those cheesy, touristy things end up being some of the things you enjoy the most and remember the best! I remember visiting Savannah, Georgia, with my ex and his family. We did a ghost tour of the city just before dusk, and we rode in this converted hearse. It was so cheesy, and yet so cool to learn some of the history and ghost lore of the city. I’d totally do it again! And that Jack the Ripper tour actually sounds really cool!

    I luuurve 50 First Dates, but Jurassic Park gave me nightmares when I was a wee child! So I’m not sure if I would go on this tour… Hmm, quite the conundrum. 😛

      Oh no! Well, maybe you could ignore the Jurassic Park parts and just focus on the amazing views!

    ohmigod, looooove kaaawa..can’t get enough of pictures like these!

      I could have spent days just staring at the mountains! I feel like I got a little crazy with photos in this post, but, really… how could I not??

    Beautiful valley… and love those signs pointing out which movies were shot where. I would appreciate it because often times it can be hard to tell.

      It was gorgeous, even under a cloudy sky! I was totally not expecting to find this on Oahu, but was really glad I did.

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