KA'ANAPALI, MAUI, Hawaii -- Paradise is abundant in Hawaii, but it's a very personal thing, particularly on Maui. Do you want amenities or seclusion? Lavish amenities or a little nightlife? Maui is small but diverse enough that it's all here, you just need to know where to go.
So which corner of Maui is right for your vacation? Here's a primer on what to expect, from Kapalua on the north shore to Makena in the south ...
Ka'anapali: Lahaina activities and west Maui sunsets
With a string of hotels lining the beach connected by a walkway, Ka'anapali is certainly the most bustling of the high-end resort areas on Maui. (Only Kihei in South Maui has a higher concentration of hotels.)
No matter which beachfront resort you choose here, it's easy to stroll beachside to a variety of shops and bars. The town center of Lahaina, the former Hawaiian capital, is also nearby.
The higher concentration of hotels here doesn't mean they aren't a splurge. The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, for example, has the most unique setting, home to a gorgeous beach tucked beside ancient black rocks, while whales are also known to hang around these waters. The sunsets here are some of Hawaii's best, and many guest rooms have balconies so you can soak it in as privately as you want. At night, you can dine in open air amid tiki torches and soothing Hawaiian tunes.
For golf, Royal Ka'anapali, a 1960s design by Robert Trent Jones Sr., delivers classic but challenging resort golf in a sunny, rolling setting overlooking Lanai. The Ka'anapali Kai, on the other hand, is a little shorter, more resort-friendly and boasts ocean views at every turn while meandering along old sugar cane fields.
Wailea: Calm waters, luxurious digs and golf
A little more low-key than Ka'anapali but with more amenities than nearby Makena, Wailea boasts a stellar blend of convenience and luxury.
A handful of resorts can be found here, but you can also venture outside any given hotel for more restaurant and shopping options. The town of Kihei is also minutes north, which has more local and seasonal condo-goer bars, shopping and restaurants.
Among the best lodging options are the Fairmont Kea Lani, which was recently renovated extensively. Guest rooms here are enormous (the property was originally conceived as an all-suite property before Fairmont assumed operations) with huge private balconies complete with ocean views. The beach is one of the calmest on Maui and home to reefs to snorkel, and you can even take canoes, paddle boards or kayaks out.
For golf, the side-by-side Wailea Gold Course and Emerald Course, void of any neighboring development, make for two of the most picture-perfect plays on Maui. Wailea's original golf course, Old Blue serves as a bargain pick whose clubhouse is also home to a fun Irish pub, Mulligan's, a good base to watch soccer and football games on flat screens.
Kapalua: North shore and a Ritz-Carlton resort
The >Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, located on the island's jungly north shore, has the most unique setting of all the golf resorts on Maui. Everything about this property is opulent, from magnificent guest quarters to fine dining in a variety of venues, 45,000-square-foot spa and a large pool.
The beach, a short walk down the hill from the hotel, can often summon dramatic waves that attracts a wealth of surfing. Besides the fantastic Ritz-Carlton resort amenities, activity company Kapalua Adventures offers a great base for adventure activities such as zip-lining.
Kapalua's two courses are very different. The hilly Bay Course winds through Kapalua's community and has Maui's only shot played over ocean. Meanwhile, the big, brawny Plantation Course sits on high ground with dazzling views of the ocean and Lanai.
Makena: A remote, south Maui escape
Far too few visitors to Maui make it all the way down to the southern end of the island, and that's exactly the appeal of Makena Beach & Golf Resort.
Recently renovated, this property delivers a true escape better than any other golf resort on Maui. Occupying 1,800 acres on the island's southern tip, most of this acreage is entirely all-natural and borders more untouched state-park property.
There are a handful of secluded beaches to discover, starting with the hotel's main beach that welcomes sea turtles. Also, you can venture just outside the resort and explore other secluded beaches. There is even a tiny beach on the other side of the Pu'u'Ola'i cinder cone, Little Beach, that is a hippie haven and known to be clothing optional -- if you're into that.
For golf, Makena Golf Course has 18 holes of hilly, natural golf. While designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (like Wailea's Gold and Emerald next door), the course routing winds up and down the Mt. Haleakala foothills. The result at Makena is the high points have some of the finest views and exciting downhill holes in all of Maui, while lower-lying holes are quiet, jungly and peaceful.