Kualoa Private Nature Reserve

Kualoa Private Nature Reserve is located on the island of O’ahu in Hawai’i. On 16 October 1974, it was inscribed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its political and religious significance. Today, the Reserve offers a diverse array of tourist experiences. Considering the location has been used for quite a few Hollywood films, it does attract a lot of tourism. To help manage the negative environemntal impacts caused by high tourist numbers, it was great to hear that the Reserve is engaged with multiple cultural and community sustainability initiatives. For example, there is a conservation program that sees volunteers remove invasive plant and fish species from their 800 year old ancient Hawaiian Moli`i fishpond. There is also a guarantee in place that there will be no property development on the site.

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I’m going to start with a history of the Reserve, then, go through the activities on offer. Finally, I’ll reveal which of the activities we selected. Oh the suspense.

History of the Reserve

Kualoa is regarded as one of the most significant locations on O’ahu for both political and religous reasons. It was once considered one of the most sacred places, a pu’uhonua or place of refuge. Hawaiian natives could journey to Kualoa in order to seek forgiveness and pray to the Gods. It also hosted the Makahiki, an annual event where Hawaiian natives came to train and participate in games of skill.

In 1850, the decision was made to establish the Kualoa Company. Their aim was to preserve the sacred land and celebrate the site’s history. Today, the Kualoa Company continues this vision with the added promise of ensuring sustainable recreational, agricultural, and aquacultural enterprises. Part of this has included the continuation of a working cattle ranch with over 600 head of cattle, 120  horses and 200 sheep.

When visiting the Reserve there are two locations on offer, the northern half and the southern half. The north is home to Ka’a’awa, nick-named Jurassic Valley. This is where you will find scenery used in over 50 Hollywood films. The south includes the Moli’i, an ancient Hawaiian fishpond, and Hokule’a beach or Secret Island.

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The Moli’i Fishpond can be seen in the distance.

Activities on Offer

We had such a difficult time deciding how we were going to experience Kualoa. Here are the tours on offer:

Kayak Adventure Tour – a 2 hour tour through Kane’ohe Bay marketed as a leisurely way to see some of the surrounding islands and the Secret Island.

Multi-passenger UTV Raptor Tour – a 1 hour tour that takes visitors into the scenic valleys and remote areas. You drive your own UTV (Ultra Terrain Vehicle).

Hollywood Movie Sites Tour – a 1.5 hour tour that explores where over 50 Hollywood movies have been filmed including Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates and many Elvis films.

Jurassic Valley Zipline – a 2.5 hour tour where you can zipline over Ka’a’awa Valley and see, from above, native flora and fauna along with movie locations.

e-Mountain Bike Tour – a 2 hour tour on an electric bike through Jurassic Valley.

Ocean Voyage Adventure – a 1.5 hour tour of the bay from Secret Island.

Taste of Kualoa – a 1.5 hour tour that focuses on the ancient Hawaiian fishpond. On this tour visitors learn about ancient fishing methods and taste some tropical fruits and fish.

Secret Island Beach Activities – an all-day tour where visitors can stay on the Island.

The Premier Movie Site Tour – a 2.5 hour tour that goes into more depth than the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour.

Jungle Jeep Expedition – a 1.5 hour tour that ventures into the Hakipu`u Jurassic rainforest. It includes a bit of history and some movie sites.

ATV Adventure Tour – either a 1 or 2 hour tour through valleys and remote areas.

Horseback Adventure Tour – either a 1 or 2 hour tour on horseback through valleys.

For someone like me who is incredibly indecisive, having this many options was intense. Not to mention I was thinking how on earth are these many activities going to be organised in the one location!

Our Decision

We decided to go with the Jungle Jeep tour considering it balanced the history with the more commercial aspects, i.e. movie locations. In short, we were not disappointed. When we arrived at the Reserve, there was a central check-in location that directed you to a separate area to wait for your guide. There was little to no confusion as to where you must go and the whole process felt very organised and controlled. I can imagine that even with incredibly high visitor numbers, this would work exceptionally well.

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The jeep was a lot of fun as well as being very informative. Our guide was amazing and revealed so much about ancient Hawaiian history. There was one location where we were able to taste some different native fruits and even wash our hair with a plant (I have since forgotten its name). Also, for the record, I completely freaked out seeing the Jurassic World gates. Dinosaurs have been a constant love in my life so this was quite exciting to see. Sometimes I need to take off my reviewer’s hat and enjoy things for what they are – I’m only human.

I’ve included some photographs below that have tried to capture the beauty of Kualoa.

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Replica statues of the Gods including Kū, God of war and prosperity.
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Mokoliʻi Island (referred to also as Chinaman’s Hat island due to its shape).

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My heart rate was high.

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I would recommend this particular tour for anyone who wants to combine some history with some thrills. Considering there are so many tours on offer, you could feasibly come to Kualoa for an in-depth history experience or to just sit on the beach and have a relaxing day. Either way, you are experiencing the heritage of the location and engaging with a significant historical place.

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If you are interested in seeing Kualoa’s inscription on the National Register of Historic Places then click here. There is an amazing black and white photograph of the area in the 1970s.

Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator at the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

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