When you are driving in Hawaii and stop to ask for directions, don't be surprised when people give you directions using the Hawaiian words "mauka" and "makai." What does that mean and why use those terms?
First of all you have to remember that you are on an island. Hawaii is made up of a chain of islands with the main islands being Oahu, Hawaii Island (Big Island), Maui and Kauai. In ancient Hawaiian times, Hawaiian chiefs were given a pie shaped piece of land called an ahupua'a that ran from the mountains to the valley, to the ocean. This unique land division system allowed all Hawaiian communities equal access to the limited natural resources of the islands.
Mauka is the Hawaiian word for mountain, and makai is the Hawaiian word for ocean, and people use these words when they are giving directions or describing a location. For example, turn makai on Maku'u Drive simply means turn towards the ocean on Maku'u Drive, ...after you turn onto Kinoole Street we are located on the mauka side, meaning the establishment is on the side of the street with the mountain, the opposite side of the street would be makai looking towards the ocean.
I personally think that the words mauka and makai used today carried over from the ancient Hawaiian ahupua'a system. Living on our beautiful islands, these 2 words are a reminder of what physically defines our islands and the ingenious Hawaiian culture that it came from.