Our Steal: 305 Plantation Estates Drive, Lahaina, Hawaii, listed by Patrick Sullivan with Sullivan Properties Inc for $5,495,000.

The temps may be cooling down, but things are heating up in the Hawaiian islands, and somehow we just can’t stop dreaming of Maui. For those of you who follow us, you can read our last Splurge vs. Steal in Maui here. Today we dive deeper into Maui real estate to share two exceptional retreats that are just too good to pass up! Which one would you choose, the Makena Road splurge or the Plantation Estates steal?

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Our Splurge: 30 Papaua Place, Lahaina, HI is currently listed by Mary Anne Fitch for $8,500,000.

Mahalo! Just saying that word makes me more relaxed. And what better way to escape the daily grind than dreaming of Maui? This week we found two exceptional Maui retreats, each with oceanfront views and luxurious appointments, but with price points that are miles apart. Are you eager to hang ten with the best of them? Then check out our latest Splurge vs. Steal where we pin a surfer’s paradise splurge, against a golfer’s whale watching steal. Which one would you choose? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

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Photo: Ruhm Marketing

Winter months have just about everyone dreaming of Hawaii and the luxury of warm weather and soft white sands. But like every other dream destination, there are levels of luxury to explore. The Kapalua resort area on Maui has quickly become a favorite for both vacations and long stays.

Part of the allure is location, it is surrounded by mountains and framed by two nature preserves that give its idyllic beaches a feeling of protection. There’s also a sense of ideal living here with a spa, great restaurants and shops, a farm that sells organic produce to the community. This isn’t just a resort where you drop the conventions of the world but is instead a place where you experience a deeper connection with nature and yourself.

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Tourism is up in Hawaii, which is a very good sign for Hawaiian real estate. The number one reason buyers purchase a vacation home in any location is because they love it. It goes like this: visit the location, love it, feel like you never want to leave. This is the point where buyers start perusing the real estate and actually, finally, pulling out the checkbook.

According to the Wall Street Journal, tourists’ spending on Hawaiian vacations over the first nine months of the 2012 rose 20% from a year earlier to $9.59 billion, or so says the Hawaii Tourism Authority. If this rate keeps up, spending could reach $13.89 billion for the year, topping the record of $12.63 billion in 2006.

Yes, I said 2006 — the good old days. Count this as more proof that luxury ain’t dead and the rich are spending, well, more than ever.

Now comes a beautiful resort and spa on Maui that offers home ownership in paradise for the first time in 25 years, Honua Kai. All condominium residences in this resort on the famed Ka’anapali Beach are full ownership. They are located on nearly forty acres of the world’s seriously most beautiful beachfront on Maui beach.

And you can see why buyers are getting out their checkbooks: the properties, in HAWAII mind you, are priced from the low $500,000’s to $3,813,900. They range from 580 to over 2,715 square feet. Some of the lanais alone (open, breezy patios) are 3,200 square feet.

My fingers are feeling itchy already: the resort features 628 full-ownership condominium homes situated in two buildings – Hokulani and Konea. A beachfront condo like this in Hawaii for $500,000? 

And get this: almost 72% have closed to date. Bought. Gone. From July 2011 to June 2012 Honua Kai saw a 68% increase in home sales, with 85 purchased homes. In July alone seven juicy sales worth over $6 million closed. That could be because Honua is offering a “Stay & Play” opportunity for resort guests who fall in love with the resort and decide to buy a vacation home. They get a vacation stay for free, which I am definitely going to check out for us, as in, all of us who crave vaca homes.

The homes are studios, one, two or three bedroom homes with open floor plans; some have dramatic ocean views, others take in the mountains. Sizes range from 580 to over 2,715 square feet.

I can live in 580 square feet in paradise, can’t you? Plus I would guess these homes have tenants beating the surf down to lease.

Here’s the deal: According to the Wall Street Journal, more visitors are going to Hawaii. Visitor arrivals in August were up 10% from a year earlier, which should make the final tally for 2012 about  7.89 million. That’s 6.3% higher than in 2011. Where are they coming from?  Japan, folks there looking to escape all the natural disasters they’ve suffered. Guess who is making up the fastest-growing group of visitors: Chinese.

But more Americans are coming, too. The WSJ quoted a flight attendant who said he decided to splurge and come to Hawaii again FINALLY after three recession-era vacas in Mexico. Is this guy just feeling flush or is he scared to death of Mexico. I vote for number two: you couldn’t get me back to Acapulco for a million bucks… well…  maybe for a million. But seriously, it’s Cabo or “Nogo” to anywhere in Mexico right now. Everyone wanting sun and beach goes to Costa Rica and now, once again, the real paradise, Hawaii.

Hang on folks, because I will be kicking the tires out there very soon.  I’ve been to Maui, Molokai and Lanai. I am returning. These homes appear to be stunningly finished out (look at that ogee-edged granite!), but do not worry for a minute, I will check. Here’s the million dollar plus view: West Maui mountains, Kaanapali North Beach, and Molokai and Lanai.

A million dollar plus view for $500,000? In Maui? Honua Kai, I am heading your way…