Kualoa Ranch a Favorite Location for Movie, TV Industries

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By Tony Bartlett

Reed Travel Features

HONOLULU -- If there is any doubt about Kualoa Ranch & Activity Club's reputation as Hollywood's Oahu back lot, 1997's record should settle it. Many of the movies shot in Hawaii this year used the 4,000-acre working ranch and activities attraction on the Windward Coast as a location.

Most outdoor filming for Disney's "George of the Jungle" was done at the ranch. When the 1960s cartoon hero (played by Brendan Fraser) rides the elephant, it was at Kualoa. Last spring, a ranch site became a Papua New Guinea village for Touchstone Pictures' "Krippendorf's Tribe," a comedy starring Richard Dreyfuss as an anthropologist. In July, Disney's "Mighty Joe Young" finished filming at Kualoa (where an African shanty town was the main set). On its heels came the stars of television's "Beverly Hills 90210" to do a segment. Later in the summer, TriStar Pictures' filmed scenes for "Godzilla" (the Japanese sci-fi creature) at the ranch, the site of a Panamanian village set.

For the ranch, 1997 will probably be the best year ever for its movie-location sideline. The Hawaii Film Office forecasts that filming, including commercials, will bring $65 million to $70 million to the state this year. This will make 1997 second only to 1994 as the best of the past dozen years (1994 was boosted by more than six months of "Water World" filming on the Big Island).

Kualoa, with two deep valleys into the Koolau Mountains, has the open space, varied scenery and rugged mountainous backdrop for movies. One of its many activities is a ranch trolley adventure tour. Visitors will see the fallen tree behind which Sam Neill's character and his young friends hid from a herd of galloping galliminus in "Jurassic Park." The last days of filming in September 1992 were at the ranch after Kauai, where the outdoor scenes were shot, was hit by Hurricane Iniki.

Weather-beaten buildings remain at Kualoa from television movie shoots. They include the home used for exterior shots in the 1994 television series "Byrds of Paradise," which was dropped by ABC after a short run. Also, there are the ranch-building props from a long-forgotten Tom Selleck television pilot.

Kualoa Ranch, a 45- to 50-minute drive from Waikiki, is off the main Kamehameha Highway, which fronts ranch land for six miles. It is known as a site for rock concerts, international mountain bike events, weddings and theme parties. It diversified into tourism in 1985, concentrating mainly on the Japanese group market until two years ago. Then, with additional facilities and activities, Kualoa expanded into the North American FIT market.

Activities include horseback trail rides, mountain biking, a gun range, helicopter tours, jet skiing, scuba, snorkeling and the adventure tour. Packages providing various activity choices, include round-trip transportation from Waikiki (picking up at 7:30 a.m. and returning at 3 p.m.) and a buffet lunch.

For example, the Deluxe Activity Tour features a pass for up to five activities for $149.

Part of the ranch's land is composed of a peninsula in Kaneohe Bay, reached by shuttle boat from the ranch across a lagoon, which the ranch calls its Secret Island. Packages designed for beach activities on the island are:

* The Secret Island and Activity Tour, which features two activities and a half day at the Secret Island, for $79.

* The Secret Island and Snorkel Tour, with a full day at the island and a snorkel tour, for $69.

Discounted children's prices are available. The ranch also has such free activities as a petting zoo, Hawaiian cultural exhibits, botanical gardens and tennis. To book, call (800) 231-7321; fax (808) 237-8925.

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