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Free Maui

Supercharge holiday without breaking the bank
The Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea offers guests and non-guests free, early morning Hawaiian canoe tours where, if you like, you can jump overboard and snorkel with sea turtles, as well as checking out other ocean treasures.

YOU'VE spent the cash - even though you know you're pushing the family pocketbook.

You've bought your plane tickets, booked your accommodations and you're en route to one of your favourite holiday destinations.

Which is none other than Maui - the place where so many Canucks go to manufacture the summer we know we'll never get back home.

So here's the question. Now that the deal is done, how can you supercharge your vacation without maxing out your credit card?

To be sure, there are a million ways to spend your moolah on Maui - home to some of the planet's finest dining, enticing luxury malls and award-winning, world-class spas.

Turns out, if you approach your holiday with a "valueadded" experience in mind, you can prevent post-vacation money stress and enjoy a surprisingly richer Hawaiian experience.

Let's start with the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel - in Wailea and always a family favourite with its exotic Moroccan-inspired design, superb beach and relaxed elegance.

The Kea Lani invites guests to - at no extra cost - roll out of bed at sunrise, grab their snorkelling gear and head out onto local waters with traditional canoe guides where they can learn about Hawaii's fragile reefs. You don't even have to be a guest of the hotel to take advantage of this perk.

This complimentary outrigger trip was hands down, particularly for our children and likely because of the green sea turtles that swam alongside us, a vacation highlight.

As was our adventure to nearby La Perouse Bay - where you can walk (for free) over dramatic, lava-strewn Pacific shores, remnants of Haleakala's last eruption in 1790.

Hauntingly beautiful, the bay was once believed to house restless spirits called Night Marchers or "Huaka'i po" who amused themselves by causing mischief among the living.

Next door to the Fairmont Kea Lani is the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea. Not an inexpensive hotel but famous for not "nickel and diming" guests once they're on property.

Free yoga on the beach anyone? How about a complimentary scuba diving demonstration? Interested in a Kindle for your reading pleasure while you enjoy the hotel's latest addition - an exquisitely tiled adult serenity pool featuring bubble lounges and unparalleled sunset vistas?

Opportunities for enriching your Maui visit abound but, according to Christina Yumul, spokesperson for the nearby Grand Wailea resort, many guests don't pursue them.

"Don't just book a property and come," advises Yumul. "I recommend that you do your research. We have all these free activities but not everyone takes time to explore them."

A free tour of the Grand Wailea's art collection is well worth your while. Most impressive is the hotel lobby collection of Fernando Botero's larger-thanlife sculptures - exaggerated renditions of the human form and evidence of the Colombian artist's playful nature.

For a leaner budget, we checked out the Mahina Surf in West Maui. This oceanside accommodation, featuring full oceanview suites and free barbecues, proved to be the perfect base from which to take in what Conde Nast recently declared, yet again, as the "Best Island in the World."

Our family snorkelled at nearby Black Rock, paid the local farmers' market a visit (where you can find sweet-tasting apple bananas for a song), and drove to the Ioa Needle where we hiked high into a tropical forest reminiscent, with its misty landscape and startling peaks, of Pandora from Hollywood's Avatar.

Travelling gourmands take note. Be sure to check out the Maui Agricultural Fest - a bustling annual event that features delicious indigenous produce and celebrates the local restaurant scene.

For fun, we followed the festival (after a good feast) with a short drive to a lookout point east of Paia - where we watched breathlessly as surfers rode the rough, north shore waters of Maui. Total cost for these family-friendly Hawaiian adventures? Zero dollars.

Back in West Maui, the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua offers the culinary-inclined complimentary tours through the resident chef's garden - where you're encouraged to sample refreshing mint, sun-warmed cherry tomatoes and Siam Queen Thai basil.

If learning about Hawaiian medicinal herbs piques your interest, the Ritz-

Carlton's cultural adviser - a native Hawaiian named Clifford Nae'ole - offers guests wonderful, memorable, guided tours. Again, at no extra cost.

(It's also worth mentioning that if you find yourself in the area, you should sneak across the hotel golf course to visit Dragon's Teeth, a stunning and dramatic rock formation created over time by lava and ocean winds.)

The trick to a value-added Maui, it turns out, is to immerse yourself locally.

Sure, you could flop by the pool, gorge yourself on deepfried hotel food and slurp back over-priced tropical drinks at sunset.

But I urge you to find your own "Free Maui" next time. I'm willing to bet you'll return home with a more genuine understanding of the island.

If nothing else, our valueadded Maui vacation reminded us that the best things in life can be found for free.


For information on Maui Day Trips:

- Hike to Ioa Needle

- La Perouse Bay laperouse-bay.aspx