Hawaii Vacation Words to Know: Mauka & Makai

I was reading HONOLULU Magazine over the weekend and noticed an ad for a shop in Hawaii’s largest mall, Ala Moana Center. The ad provides directions to the shop saying that it was on the “mauka side” of the shopping center. What that ad means is that the shop is located on the mountain side of the mall. Seeing the ad prompted me to want to re/introduce you to mauka and makai as they are important direction descriptions frequently used in Hawaii.

– Mauka (mow-kah) means on the mountain side of the road in the context of directions.

– Makai (mah-kigh) means on the ocean side of the road in the context of directions.

Oahu-Hawaii-Feb-2009 93 (1)
Picture yourself driving along this road on the right side. In that scenario, you'd be driving on the makai side.

I think these words are actually more descriptive than left and right especially since most of the main roads circle along the coastline. Plus, when you understand these directions, you never have to worry about which direction from which you came. Whether you’re driving from the North or South, the makai side is always going to be on the ocean side side of the road.

You will likely discover that mauka and makai are used very frequently without a further description in Hawaii. So, now you’ll know when you go what these words mean and you’ll be navigating Hawaii like a local.

1 comment
  1. The most win thing I ever heard was in the spelling bee, they actually had mauka as a word. The guy had a weird pronunciation, though. “maa ooh kaah” or something.

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