What’s island life like when you’re driving around the island? For one thing – you’ll never get lost.
What’s island life like : Cardinal directions aren’t commonly used
Traditional cardinal directions aren’t heard in everyday conversations like they are on the mainland. However, the terms “mauka” and “makai” are used frequently. “Mauka” means “mountain side” in Hawaiian and “makai” means “ocean side.” So, when locals are referring to the location of something it sounds something like, “the building is on Kapi’olani Blvd, makai side” instead of saying “south side of Kapi’olani Blvd.” It’s just a different lingo here.
Although we’ll use cardinal directions to identify the different shorelines such as “north shore” and “eat side,” you wouldn’t suggest someone to “drive south on the freeway.” The only cardinal directions used to describe driving directions on O’ahu are east and west. For example, “heading west on the H1” is a common phrase. I’m sure the other islands have their own identification directions as well that are unique to that island.
What’s island life like : The mountains and the ocean guide you
It’s difficult to get lost on the island because the mountains are always on one side of you and the ocean is on the other. If the mountains are on your right, you’re heading West; if they’re on your left, you’re heading East. If you’re on the north shore, your orientation will be different. However, these directions I’ve provided are great for when you’re on the south shore of O’ahu. This is where a majority of the island’s population is concentrated.
You’ll learn quickly that a majority of the island is not situated as a lateral grid like most cities are. The orientations are in reference to East, West, Mauka, Makai. Many streets are curved, they’re not traditional. This is because the geography of the land isn’t flat. There are several old volcanoes across the islands which makes for hills, mountains, ridges and valleys in a small area. So, most of the island’s streets aren’t linear. Although this seems like it could be easier to get lost, if you use the mountains and the ocean to orient you, you’ll be fine.
What’s island life like : geolocation via key landmarks
There are also some key landmarks that can help identify where you are on the island. For example, Diamond Head and Koko Head (both dormant volcanoes) can help locate you. For example, Diamond Head is in Waikiki and Koko Head is near Hanauma Bay. If you remember this, it can help you to understand your location without using a map.
What’s island life like : O’ahu is small
The island is small. There’s no way you’re going to accidentally drive to L.A. Unless you hop in a kayak and start trekking your way across the Pacific, you’ll be fine. On the continental U.S., it would be possible to accidentally drive to another state. Although the chance of this happening is low, in Hawaii, it’s non-existent. The island is just so small, it’s only 596.7 square miles. The city of Los Angeles is only 503 square miles, so the island of O’ahu is just a little bigger than Los Angeles.
The only thing that may throw you off are the street names because everything is in Hawaiian – at least 90% of it. This could be difficult if you don’t hear Hawaiian on an everyday basis, but you’ll get used to the sound of it after a little while. After all, you are in Hawaii so you might as well pick up some Hawaiian!