Graham Reid | | 5 min read
bungalow where the King once stayed, just a short stroll from the
white sand shore, is a sad and sorry sight today. The roof has caved
in, the windows are blown out and the walls look perilously close to
collapsing. It looks even worse in the wider context of this
beautiful Pacific playground.
Over there at
the lagoon where he was married in a ceremony witnessed by hundreds
of happy Hawaiians, the waters are now brackish, the pathways
littered with fallen palm leaves and the place has the sad sense of
The large hotel
building -- which once hosted the fabulously wealthy, the famous and
sophisticated jet-setters -- is even worse: you walk around the ruins
and look at the decay and destruction with melancholy thoughts of all
the gaiety that was once here, now gone forever.
is Coco Palms Resort on “the garden island” of Kaua’i in the
Hawaiian group and the King of Rock‘n’Roll, Elvis Presley, stayed
here when he filmed Blue
in 1961, the first of three films -- Girls!
the following year and Paradise,
in 65 being the others -- which brought him to these beautiful
It was in that
battered bungalow where he stayed during filming and in which they
shot many of the interior sequences, and on that neglected lagoon
where he married his co-star Joan Blackman and floated down the
lagoon on a platform between two outrigger canoes to sound of
ukuleles and a choir.
many people get to look around this relic of the once-stylish Coco
Palms, destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Perhaps that’s a good
thing because it is ineffably sad when you think of how the cast and
crew of South
stayed here during the glorious Technicolor days, and how Hawaii was
then an exotic destination where seaplanes would disgorge their cargo
of pleasure seekers aiming for hula entertainment and tropical nights
with fruit-filled cocktails.
Hawaii is still a magnet for tourists, and a place where presidents
and prime ministers holiday: there is already a tour on Oahu which
takes in places Barack Obama enjoyed when he was a man with fewer
worries, although as yet no one has put together a John Key tour
pointing out his holiday home.
But one of the
most interesting tours available is that of movie locations on the
island of Kaua’i, just a 40 minute flight from Honolulu.
islands with their fair climate, exotic locations and bio-diversity
have been a magnet for film makers: screen stars John “The Duke”
Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlton Heston, Jessica
Lange and hundreds of others have all made movies on Kaua’i.
Directors as diverse as John Ford, Steven Spielberg and B-grade
master Roger Corman have all felt the pull of this exotically
various parts of Kaua’i -- smaller than Stewart Island and
geologically the oldest in the Hawaiian chain -- have stood in for
Vietnam and Laos (Uncommon
tropical Australia (The
Indonesia (the 75 remake of King
New Guinea (The
Seven Women From Hell),
plague-ridden Africa (Outbreak)
and Peter Pan’s Never-Never Land (Hook).
pilot for Gilligan’s
and the opening sequence of Fantasy
were filmed on Kaua‘i, and a rough drive up an unsealed,
pothole-punctuated track takes you to the gates of Jurassic Park. In
these mountains raptors and T Rex terrorised Sam Neill, Laura Dern
and Jeff Goldblum. Or at least they did in the Spielberg movie filmed
in the Wailua Rainforest.
useful self-drive guide to these places so familiar from the big and
small screen is The
Kaua’i Movie Book
by Chris Cook, widely available on the island, but an even better way
to see these locations (some of which like Coco Palms are off-limits
to the casual tourist) is to hook up with 4X4 Hawaii Movie Tours
which takes small groups in comfortable four-wheel drive vans to some
of the most famous, and most remote, locations.
snippets from the movies showing on a screen inside the van, the
movie locations have a then-and-now quality, and you can see how
through the magic of editing or a camera tilted to exclude a power
pole these places have been such effective substitutes for so many
places and times.
course some locations such as the astonishing Na Pali coast --
inaccessible by road -- mean that you have to take a helicopter
flight (just as Elvis did in Paradise,
to fully appreciate the monumental grandeur of this sculpted
coastline, or to look down on Waimea Canyon which Mark Twain rightly
considered “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.
something amusing and interesting in hearing how certain scenes from
filmed at Wailua Falls were faked for the camera and the home
audience, and seeing Hule’ia Stream which doubles as the river
where Harrison Ford memorably escaped the South American headhunters
at the start of Raiders
of the Lost Ark.
can be where giants walked (T.Rex or John Wayne), stand in a bar
where Sinatra drank or take in the vast sweep of breathtaking Hanalei
Bay where South
was filmed. You can even get married where the King did.
the Coco Palms Resort hosted over 700 weddings a year and even now,
despite its parlous state, it still hosts five a month (for US$1200).
television commercials a year are filmed on Kaua’i and you can see
why this has been such a popular location since the 50s. There is an
ancient beauty and grandeur to the land, a climate that is most often
kind, and at the end of the day those fruit-filled cocktails and the
sound of Hawaiian guitars.
And anyway, if
it’s good enough for the head of the Rat Pack, the Duke and the
King . . .
fantasy island indeed.
For other travel stories by Graham Reid, see here for his two award-winning travel books.