Real Mountain, Movie Island in Hawaii

Just beyond the beautiful north shore slopes on Kauai floats the forbidden (and imaginary) island of Bali Hai. A real mountain nearby was turned into this island through the magic of movie making for South Pacific.

Many spots on Kauai look much like they did when the movie was filmed in 1958. It’s possible to visit them on your own with a guidebook or as part of a tour. However, the haunting view of the island exists only in the movie, and in the musical and book on which it was based. James A. Michner wrote of such an island in Tales of the South Pacific, calling it Vanicoro. I have read that he based this island on a real place that he visited while in the military: Ambae Island off the island of Santo in Vanuatu. Santo was a U.S. supply base during the Second World War and reportedly many locals moved their families to the island for safety. One report says the real concern was keeping wives and daughters away from the lonely troops stationed there.

The mountain’s name was changed to Bali Hai for the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version of South Pacific, which preceded the movie. (The musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.) The director, Joshua Logan, was a WW II veteran who read Michner’s book and decided to adapt it for the stage. The name Bali Hai was kept for the movie, which retained most elements of the stage play. To replicate the visible-yet-forbidden-island, film makers shot Makana Mountain in the Limahuli National Tropical Botanical Gardens. In the movie, the mountain’s base is obscured by clouds as it sits on the horizon, superimposed on the water.

So it is possible to visit all the pieces that made up Bali Hai on Kauai, they’re just in different locations than they appear in the movie.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher