The last time I rode an ATV I crashed into my uncles very sturdy fence in the Sunshine Coast. My cousin came rushing over, my ankle slightly rolled but otherwise ok, he analyzed the fence to see how badly I dented the three foot round post. With this in mind, I was a little nervous to get back on the ATV more than sixteen years later in Oahu. But I wanted to see the land for more than just the resorts, beaches and mai tais. I felt it was important to see more of the land I have come to love so dearly since my first visit in 2010.
I shoved my head into the tightly padded helmet provided by Kualoa Ranch, shaking my head ensuring it wouldn’t fall off easily. Taking a deep breath I looked up to the towering mountains of Oahu made iconic by Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Godzilla and Lost. All those films were made here at Kualoa Ranch, a property spanning 4000 acres with a spectacular view of Mokoli’i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) and the ancient Hawaiian fishpond consisting of 143 acres. It’s a widespread unadulterated paradise and easy to get lost in the hills and crevasses of the valleys.
I boarded third in line from the guide. I was located behind a couple who joined us for the day and yet I was first in line when it came to my crew. One after the other we cranked the trigger with our thumb, the ATV churning like a lawnmower jutting me forward then stopping. A jerk forward and pull to a stop. On it went until I felt comfortable to go full throttle.
At first you must pass the obstacle course Kualoa Ranch has set for you and the group. Should anyone fall behind, cause trouble or completely fail at following the leader then there would be a 4 person buggy to pick you up and carry you along the way. In short, you’ve arrived on their no drive list.
It being safe for kids 16 and up I didn’t expect the terrain to be as adventurous as it was. It had freshly rained in the hills so the ground was muddy with huge puddles and hidden boulders that I would drive over unexpectedly. My caboose would be sent forward and my thumb would catch the throttle as I attempted to grip the handles tighter. I sent myself flying accidentally bursting through the basin splashing my very careful ATV rider in front of me. For a man who excitedly boarded an ATV in Hawaii, his demeanour around puddles was demure to say the least.
As I came to a halt with both pleasure and shock across my face at the dirt now covering my bare legs and arms I knew my first fatal crash was lightyears behind me. Off we all went into the hills for even more challenging terrain.
The guide weaved along the path up ahead leading us through acute angles puddles with unknown depths and muddy patches of ground that kicked up onto our backsides. We finally arrived at our first photostop.
A large misshapen hole that had appeared filled in rested entrenched into the hillside. The sign read “Godzilla”. This was the Godzilla footprint – a hazard when on a farm with over 500 cattle. After filming was completed the footprint was left exactly as it had appeared in the film but in the dark Hawaiian evenings cattle would tumble into the pit. This is why the Godzilla footprint looks more like he was scarping his foot of debris.
Eager for more adrenaline we piled onto our ATVs and set off for the next film location, an iconic movie and scene from my childhood…Jurassic Park. I remember being a kid in the theatre gripping my seat, tensing my legs as the velociraptors tailed the two children in the industrial kitchen, uncertain of their fate. It was an exciting piece of film for any kid who loved dinosaurs and what kid doesn’t?
After we took the mandatory fan photo above our laid back guide asked what we’d like to do next. He gave us a few options including a WWII bunker. Having only seen one at the top of Diamond Head we unanimously opted for to see an important piece of Oahu history. Pearl Harbor is of course one of the most visited war memorials in America and it is well deserved but at Kualoa Ranch and other locations around Oahu you can check out lesser known parts of WWII history without the long lines and crowds of people. Kualoa Ranch’s bunker is one of those places.
As we escalated muddy paths to a clear road climbing higher we passed buses of tourists who opted for the safer and less dirty tour – the bus. They gazed at our relative freedom with a tinge of envy.
Arriving at the bunker opening I was astonished with the size of it. Our guide pointed out to the Pacific Ocean, “Out there on calm days you can see a two man Japanese submarine that was destroyed”.
We entered and found long concrete hallways leading to secretive rooms behind narrow metal doors where important decisions were made a long time ago now.
A few rooms were open to us, some were not. But one in particular was set for filming for Hawaii 5-0 – a TV show I am only a fan of before I leave for Hawaii.
Upon the concrete walls of the hallways were Kualoa’s credentials as a premier filing location including posters from all of Elvis’ Hawaiian films, Hunger Games, Karate Kid (1986) and Jurassic Wold (again to name but a few).
With all the Hollywood glamour and illusion brought to these mountains along with the carnage of WWII, it is the landscape that overwhelms you and the perseverance of time no matter what it brings.
Anthony Bourdain’s latest visit to Hawaii (one of the best episodes ever) captured on CNN’s Parts Unknown was all about Ohana. It means family, extended family and it was conveyed by a Molokai man that anyone who cares about the Hawaiian land as much as a caring inhabitant can be Ohana. Although I have only been to Oahu 4 times I deeply care about the ecosystem and what happens there as well as Hawaii’s people (and that’s a complex issue). It’s a place that needs people to care about it and not just its inhabitants but visitors who flock for paradise. We too need to make sure it stays a paradise. In the six years since my first visit I have seen the traffic and population increase. Inhabitants protest the demand for more hotels with signs upon their lawn. Protecting Hawaii seems like a large and impossible undertaking but it’s for Ohana.