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by Samantha Black, student writer

It’s your second day on O‘ahu, and you have a job interview. You write down the street address, go online to mapquest.com, and print out the directions. The first thing you notice is that you can’t pronounce any of the street names. You don’t get too worried because you figure that you could recognize the streets by their spelling. So you hop into your car and head out. You get lost; the street names are all spelled similarly and are unpronounceable, and your map does not show roads you needed to turn onto to get to your destination.

This actually happened to me. I finally arrived at my interview, two hours late. Fortunately, I was welcomed with a good laugh from my future boss. She told me to always have a real map when driving in Hawai‘i, and you should too.

So, since you’ve moved to an island where interstate highways don’t go interstate, where lots of streets have unpronounceable names, and, worst of all, where area names do not show up on any map, how can you get around?

The island of O‘ahu comprises Honolulu County, and although it has the largest population in Hawai’i, O ‘ahu is actually the smallest of the four main islands, only about 600 square miles. The next largest island is Kauai at 622 square miles (National Association of Counties).

O‘ahu is known around the world for Diamond Head, a large, distinctively shaped volcanic cone on the eastern end of Waikiki, for Pearl Harbor, where Japanese bombs got the United States into World War II, and the North Shore, surfing capital of the world. These spots are the most frequented by travelers and with the island directions—mauka, meaning toward the mountains, makai, toward the ocean, Diamond Head, or east, and Ewa, which means toward the west—make great landmarks for getting around the island.

Three main “interstate” highways link O‘ahu’s major areas: the H1, H2, and H3. The H1 is the longest highway of the three; it connects west O‘ahu, the leeward Coast, the island’s dry side, to the southeast side of the island, which includes Honolulu and Waikiki. The H2 starts from the H1 in Pearl City, just above Pearl Harbor, and ends in Wahiawa, near Schofield Army Barracks. The H3 starts east of the Honolulu Airport, intersects with the H-1 briefly near the Aloha Stadium in A‘iea, and goes northeast through the Ko‘olau mountain range to the windward side of the island. It ends at the Kane‘ohe Marine Corp Base Hawai‘i on Kane‘ohe Bay.

In addition, on the windward side there is the Pali Highway which also crosses the Ko‘olaus, from Bishop Street, on the HPU’s downtown campus to its windward Hawai’i Loa campus, at the foot of the mountains about two miles down from the Pali Tunnel, on the windward end of Kamehameha Highway. The Pali continues into Kailua town, but its name changes to the Kalani-‘anaole Highway, which begins at the end of the H1 in Kahala, an area mauka of Waikiki and just north of Diamond Head. It then passes through Hawai‘i Kai and follows the coast around the eastern tip of the island, past Sea Life Park, to Castle Junction, where a turn right toward the ocean goes to Kailua and a turn left goes toward the mountains and the junction of Pali and Kamehameha Highway.

Kamehameha Highway circles the island and is its longest road. Known mostly as “Kam Highway,” it starts by the airport and it makes its way past Pearl Harbor, through Pearl City and north through Mililani and Wahiawa in the center of the island, to and through historic Haleiwa, on O‘ahu’s North Shore. It then continues around the north tip of the Island past Waimea Bay and the Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku, and then back down along the windward coast into Kane‘ohe where it connects with the Pali Highway at HPU’s Hawai‘i Loa campus.

The last highway in this brief explanation of how to get around on O‘ahu is the Likelike, which is another connection between the leeward and windward sides of the island. It starts at the junction of H1 and Kalihi Street, near the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and ends in Kane‘ohe at a junction with Kamehameha Highway, where it becomes Kane‘ohe Bay Drive.

These seven highways are the most frequently traveled, and the ones you are likely to need to use most often. They take you from east to west and from north to south. For more information regarding O‘ahu highways you can visit the state of Hawai‘i Department of Transportation at www.state.hi.us/dot/highways/oahu/htm.


This map of O‘ahu shows why conventional directions don’t work well on an island. The Hawaiian people developed their own system: Makai means toward the sea; mauka is toward the mountain. The actual direction, of course, changes depending on which side of the island you’re on: leeward (west) or windward (east).

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