Hawaii’s Oahu is an island jam packed with things to do no matter what your taste, but there was one thing recommended to me above all by other travelers while I was planning my visit. Kualoa Ranch, a place of which I had never heard but turned out to be right up my alley!
What is Kualoa Ranch?
Kualoa Ranch is a private nature reserve and working cattle ranch most well known as Hollywood’s Hawaii set, it has been the location for many Hollywood blockbusters including Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island, Jumanji and 50 First Dates, as well as TV shows such as Lost.
It was also a key site during WW2 with numerous military bunkers and installations remaining. The largest of these, Battery Cooper, travels deep inside a mountain and has been a set for Hawaii 5-0. It now serves as a repository of military and movie memorabilia from the Ranch. You can check out the video walking through Battery Cooper below.
The expansive 4000 acre property that has been passed from generation to generation exists to protect the land, while working to develop sustainable agricultural and aquacultural practices. Hawaii does not produce enough food to support its population, and is reliant upon imports. In the event of a natural disaster blocking imports, the state would run out of food within a short period of time. Kualoa Ranch seeks to contribute what it can to the islands food supply.
Where is Kualoa Ranch?
The eastern shore of Oahu at Kaneohe Bay, 45 minutes from Waikiki.
How to get to Kualoa Ranch
If you don’t have access to a car, a bus service runs between Waikiki and the Ranch for a cost of USD $15 per person for a round trip. These can be booked online through the ranch when you book any tour or USD $10 per person with an activity package. There are a number of pickup locations which you can choose from. My bus departed from the Aloha bus landing at the Sheraton Waikiki. If you get the bus from this location be aware it is not obviously a part of the Sheraton Waikiki, I went past twice before I found it! You can find it on Royal Hawaiian Street, on the side that looks like it doesn’t actually go anywhere!
What is there to do at Kualoa Ranch?
The Ranch offers a wide range of different tours, from ATV’s, to horseback, bus and jeeps. These will cover different parts of the property, offering spectacular mountain and ocean views, military installations and movie sets.
There is also a well known Zipline that runs through the picturesque valleys and includes some hiking and a small petting zoo to enthrall the kids.
If you are on the bus and unable to check out other locations on the eastern shore, I’d recommend considering a tour package and spending the day, to make the most of the time you invest getting out there. There are a variety of tour packages available or you can book and combine tours individually depending on times.
I chose to do the Best of Kualoa Ultimate Experience, which costs USD $123.95 per adult. This package includes three tours and an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch.
Kualoa Ranch tours do book out in advance, so this is one to plan ahead!
The Best of Kualoa Ultimate Experience
Upon arriving at the ranch you’ll be assigned your groups and program for the day.
Taste of Kualoa Farm Tour
First up for my day was the Taste of Kualoa Tour. At the main ranch my group boarded our trolley bus that resembled a rickety old windowless school bus and trundled out the front gate to travel along the highway to access the agricultural part of the property.
I’ll be honest, I picked this package for the other two tours included and I could have give or taken this one, but it was still interesting to hear the guide explain some of the ranch history and the efforts it makes towards food production, while learning a few Hawaiian words! For the first part of the tour the bus bumped along through the tropical garden while the guide pointed out local plants and explained their cultural uses and how they were brought to the island by the original Polynesian settlers. Other parts of the garden were reserved for growing more commercial produce, such as coffee and sugar cane.
I’m a movie buff, so the movie focused tours were more aligned to my interests. I was delighted when the bus stopped at a large dirt enclosure that was surrounded by a number of buildings that were actually movie sets. We were invited to stroll around as we wished but warned not to enter the buildings themselves, as they were merely a facade and not safe to access. A short stroll from the enclosure was the beautiful inland lake used in Jurassic World, which also offers a backdrop that is a popular setting for weddings. It is an ancient fish pond.
After taking in the views at the fish pond we board the trolley once again and are taken to the final stop via fields and aquaculture locations, housing varieties of fish and water plants. Our final stop is a hut where a variety of produce from the farm is spread out for us to try. The offerings vary by season, February’s were Papaya, Banana, dried fish and Poi – a key source of protein in the Hawaiian diet. Big bowls of Macadamia’s sat on the railing beside a cracking vice, the ground below littered with the shells ready to break down into the soil. The fish and Poi were not to my taste, but the small variety of Banana was sweet and delicious, and I indulged in plenty of Macadamias before we head back to the main ranch.
Taste of Kualoa Trolley tour runs for 90 minutes and individually costs USD $47.95 per adult and USD $36.95 per child under 12. It visits locations not covered by other tours.
The Hollywood Movie Sites Tour
Back at the main ranch there is time for a quick stroll in the store and a bathroom visit before I line up with my group for the second tour. We are divided into two buses, one for Japanese and one for English.
The Hollywood Movie Sites Tour takes you to another part of the property. Our first stop is the largest of the WW2 bunkers on the property, Battery Cooper which winds inside the mountain that it sits towards the top of. Built in 1943 it is now an exhibit of war and movie memorabilia which still serves as an active set, featuring in both the film Pearl Harbor and Hawaii 5-0. It offers spectacular ocean views from the entrance.
Next we travel to the lush fields bordered by imposing mountain ranges that were the setting for the Jurassic Park scene when Sam Neill and the children flee from the dinosaur herds. The famous tree stump behind which they hide from the T-Rex also features, and the guide is happy to snap away for everyone that wants a photo, complete with their own dinosaur!
This beautiful landscape has also been the setting for blockbusters including Kong: Skull Island, Jumanji, Mighty Joe Young, Godzilla and the television series Lost.
On our way back to the main ranch we stop off to meet Dakota. Always ready for a treat from the driver and pats from hands extended from the windows.
The Hollywood Movie Sites Tour runs for 90 minutes and individually it costs USD $47.95 per adult and USD $36.95 for a child under 12.
Jungle Jeep Expedition
I found it hard to pick my favourite between the Jungle Jeep Expedition and the Hollywood Movie Sites tour. The Jungle Jeep Expedition vehicle resembles an African safari bus, and is able to venture to parts of the property the bus cannot. Hence it is able to offer different locations. While the Ranch gives safety warnings of rough terrain, I personally didn’t find it terribly rough, more slightly bouncy, it was a really fun tour. Each vehicle only seats up to 16 passengers, so it is also a smaller group than the Hollywood Sites tour.
The Jungle Jeep tour features more sets from Jurassic World, Jumanji and Kong: Skull Island, as well as some Netflix shows.
The Jungle Jeep Expedition finishes with a climb up to a point that offers spectacular views of the valley below and ocean, a short 5-10 minute walk up the hill.
The Jungle Jeep Expedition runs for 90 minutes and individually it costs USD $47.95 per adult and USD $36.95 per child under 12.
The other inclusion in this package is a all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at the Ranch restaurant, where you can sample meals produced from the Ranch produce. Since I started my tours with the first available in the morning, my lunch was scheduled after the Hollywood Sites tour.
Grab your food and head on out onto the deck to take in the scenery.
Alternatively the cafe offers a range of food options made to order.
Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out my 7 day Oahu itinerary.
You can also save on selected Oahu activities with the Go Oahu card.