By Gabby Shacknai
August 31, 2019
Courtesy of Kualoa Ranch

Oahu’s Kualoa Ranch has appeared on screen almost as many times as the numerous leading actors who’ve set foot on its green pastures, and like any good movie star, it’s played a wide range of roles. It’s where dinosaurs chased Alan Grant and the kids in “Jurassic Park” and where Hurley built the golf course in “Lost.” Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson climbed the sides of a moving helicopter through its lush valleys in “Jumanji,” and Adam Sandler tried to win over his forgetful love interest here at the Hukilau Cafe in “50 First Dates.”

While the 4,000-acre ranch, dubbed “Hollywood’s backlot,” is undoubtedly best known for its various cameos in cinematic history, the privately owned nature preserve has a rich past that long predates its career in the movie biz. Kualoa’s story began back in 1850, when Hawaii’s King Kamehameha III sold 622 acres of his personal land to Dr. Gerritt Judd, who traveled to the island from New England 22 years earlier to provide medical care and soon after renounced his American citizenship to work for the king. Ten years later, Dr. Judd’s son purchased an additional 2,000 acres of the land and, together with his brother-in-law, started a sugar plantation. Less than a decade later, though, the Judd family was forced to shutter the sugar mill operation in the wake of insufficient rainfall. Shortly thereafter, they started ranching cattle, a practice which endures to this day. Kualoa played an important part in World War II, when the U.S. military constructed a coastal artillery defense battery and airstrip, and it made its Hollywood debut in 1955 in the Henry Fonda film “Mister Roberts.” Throughout all of this and in the years since, the ranch has continued its cattle business and has introduced agricultural and aquacultural enterprises.

Courtesy of Kualoa Ranch

Owned and operated today by the Morgan family, sixth-generation descendants of the Judds, Kualoa is also home to a host of recreational activities and tours that allow visitors to experience Oahu’s natural beauty and the ranch’s storied cultural heritage. Guests can take the adventurous route with a guided ATV or multi-person UTV tour of the scenic valleys and remote regions of the park, or they can explore Jurassic Valley and other popular landmarks on an electric mountain bike expedition. Kayak tours of Kaneohe Bay are available at Kualoa, as are jungle tours, which take folks through tropical rainforest paths in an open-air jungle vehicle. If you’re the type who prefers to get around in true 19th-century fashion, the ranch offers guided horseback tours across wooded trails and green pastures — perfect for the family or for anyone seeking a romantic option. Visitors with a culinary curiosity can opt for the Taste of Kualoa Farm tour, which showcases some of the fruits, nuts, and fish harvested on the lands, or the $150 Kualoa Grown Farm-to-Table Experience, which explores the cattle, sheep, pig, and chicken farms and ends with a seven-course meal.

Of course, it’s the nature preserve’s place in Hollywood that really drives locals and out-of-towners alike to Oahu’s northeastern coast, so it seems only fitting that Kualoa offer a number of tours that capitalize on its cinematic past (and present). There’s the Hollywood Movie Sites and Ranch Tour, which lets guests visit the locations of some of the biggest blockbuster films, including “Jurassic Park,” “Godzilla,” and “Jurassic World,” and for an even richer experience, there’s Premier Movie Sites Tour, which actually takes visitors behind the scenes of these spots. You can also choose from a zip line tour of the Jurassic Valley, where you can zip over up to a quarter mile of the greenery, and a catamaran tour of Kaneohe Bay, home to the famous Mokoli`i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) and Hokule`a Beach.

Kualoa sits just 24 miles from Waikiki, and the ranch provides bus transportation, which stops at most major hotels and is available for just $15 roundtrip. The 4000-acre destination is open every day from 7 a.n. to 5:30 p.m., and visitors can spend a few hours or a whole day there, depending on which activities they select. It’s strongly recommended that you book tours and excursions well in advance, either on the ranch’s website or by phone.

Individual activities like the movie, ocean, jungle, and Taste of Kualoa Farm tours run $46 per person, while one-hour horseback, ATV, and UTV Raptor tours cost $85 each. The e-bike, kayak, and two-hour horseback, ATV, and UTV tours are priced at $130, and the three-hour zip line experience is $160. Additionally, guests can opt for all-inclusive combo packages that include two or more activities and a buffet lunch.

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