What Do Makai & Mauka Mean? A Lesson In Hawaiian Directions

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The words “mauka” and “makai” are commonly used on the Hawaiian Islands and you’ll often see them used in a context such as “the mauka side of the building” or “the makai side of the building”.

Mauka refers to the mountainside, and makai refers to the ocean. If you were to get directions from a local you may hear them say, “The mauka side of the road” or “The makai side of the road.” Using the reference points of the mountains and the ocean is more helpful than north, south, east and west.

To the uninitiated, it’s a little confusing, so what do these words mean and where do they come from?

Mauka: Mountain Side

Mauka, pronounced “mow-kah”, means “mountain side”.

A direct translation is something like “toward the mountains” or “upland”.

Makai: Ocean Side

Makai, pronounced “mah-kigh”, means “ocean side” and a direct translation would be something like “seaward”.

Makai vs Mauka

Makai and Mauka are used when giving directions and are always in relation to the road.

The “makai side”, for instance, means that the destination is on the ocean side of the road.

It’s important to know what these words mean (arguably more than “hang loose” and “aloha spirit“) as they will help you to find your way around the islands.

Directions on the Hawaiian Islands

The above words may sound like an odd and needlessly complicated way of describing something, but it works perfectly for the mountainous islands of Hawaii.

After all, roads twist and turn and so “left” and “right” isn’t always a good enough description.

By using “makai” and “mauka”, it doesn’t matter if you are coming from the south or north, you will know that your destination is always on the ocean side or the mountain side of the road.