North America

Lights! Camera! Oahu!

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“The stuff that goes on in making movies? They ought to make a movie about it,” says veteran film scout Randy Spangler.

And he should know. Spangler’s been working in Hawaii’s busy film industry since the 1970s, when he got his start finding locations for the TV series Hawaii Five-O.

So many productions have been filmed on Hawaii’s most populous island, Oahu, that I wonder why it’s so attractive to Hollywood and television studios.

Spangler has the answer. “The people, the crews, the weather, and the variation in looks of the people who live here,” he replies.

It’s a fair point. Oahu is such a multicultural place, its people sharing Polynesian, Asian and European heritage, that all manner of real-world locations can be simulated in the streets of Honolulu or the rugged green countryside outside the city.



A scene in the popular TV programme Lost once called for a flashback to a snowbound Chicago. Filming took place in Honolulu’s humid Chinatown, says Spangler.

“We got permission to put phoney snow in windows, sprayed awnings, brought in truckloads of ice and put it in the gutters. We had to shoot in the morning, before the sun got over the top of the mountain and melted it.”

Over the decades, a long list of screen successes have been shot on Oahu: including Lost, Jurassic Park, the Hunger Games sequel, Magnum PI, Tora! Tora! Tora! and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

The easiest way to see the island’s famous on-screen locations is to hire a car and visit the Kualoa Ranch ( on Oahu’s east shore. This working cattle ranch, which takes in craggy mountains, green hills and ocean shoreline, operates regular movie site tours in big green buses.

The tour takes in an eclectic collection of highlights, including the dead tree behind which characters hid from dinosaurs in Jurassic Park; the area used as a golf course in Lost; Godzilla’s footprint; and the set of Atlantis from Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.

According to one of the guides, a tour bus once got stuck in mud while George of the Jungle was being filmed on the ranch. An elephant on set was able to push it out.

For more film-spotting fun, head up the east coast from Honolulu. At Halona Cove you can check out the spectacular blowhole used as a backdrop in Hawaii Five-O, and on a clear day see other Hawaiian islands on the horizon.

Nearby is Sandy Beach, with challenging surf that’s popular with body boarders. For the 1980s TV show Magnum PI, says Spangler, a circus was set up in a field behind the beach, then nearly blown away by high winds before filming could take place.

An Australian-set scene in the original Point Break movie was actually filmed at Makapu’u Point, with right-hand drive vehicles brought in for authenticity. And nearby is the jetty which served as Magnum PI’s helicopter landing pad.

Heading north, you’ll eventually reach Turtle Bay near the northernmost tip of Oahu. The Turtle Bay Resort ( is another popular filming location.

Over the years its extensive grounds have been used for scenes in Hawaii Five-O, Magnum, Death Wish and Hunger Games 2. Near the Kawela Bay shoreline is a massive banyan tree seen in Lost and Pirates of the Caribbean.

To see more of the property, including TV and movie locations, take a Segway tour or a ride in the original helicopter used for Magnum PI.

To finish your epic location trek, have a drink or meal at the resort’s open-air Ola restaurant above the beach. There are great views, and this is where the big dining scene in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall was shot; not to mention some scenes of the sitcom Cougar Town.

There’s no getting away from the movie life in Oahu.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.


You can get Hawaii included as a stopover on our Discoverer round the world



A Week in Hawaii

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Spending a week in the USA’s island state? You won’t be lost for things to do. Between the urban delights of the Pacific’s biggest city, Honolulu, and the natural attractions across the eight main islands, there’s plenty of material for a memorable trip. Here are some ideas.

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