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How to Return Lava Rocks to the Islands of Hawai'i

Updated on August 10, 2016
Hawaiian Scribe profile image

Stephanie Launiu is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle & cultural writer. She has a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies. She lives on O'ahu.

Photos of different types of lava rocks.
Photos of different types of lava rocks.

Claims of Bad Luck Send Lava Rocks Home to Hawai'I Each Year

You’ve all heard of ‘urban legends.’ Well, in Hawai'i we have ‘island legends.’ And some of the most commonly retold are stories of tourists to Hawai'i suffering streaks of bad luck after taking home lava rocks or beach sand.

There’s no scientific proof that taking lava rocks back to Kansas will cause you to fall and break your leg, or that the next tornado will carry your house away, but people get spooked when they start to link something bad with the fact that they took something they knew they probably shouldn’t have.

No one knows the origins of this ‘bad luck’ legend. Some people say that the rangers at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park started this legend decades ago to stop people from picking up lava rocks and carrying them away. The rangers, of course, deny this.

Others attribute the legend to the fact that Native Hawaiians’ indigenous religion worships Pele, goddess of the volcanoes, who is said to have traveled from the South Pacific to take part in the creation of the island chain. Believers say that Pele makes her home at Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawai'i where volcano eruptions have been almost non-stop since 1983. Pele, known for her fiery and unforgiving temper, would be righteously indignant if anyone took a piece of her body (lava rock) away from her island home. And so, naturally, she would curse any person who did so. Or so the story goes…

Molten lava flowing into the ocean off the southeastern coast of the Big Island.
Molten lava flowing into the ocean off the southeastern coast of the Big Island.

Reverse the Curse

After a Hawaiian vacation some people find themselves with a string of bad luck and a lava rock in their suitcase that they want to send back. Our family used to own a visitor garden on the Big Island of Hawai'i, and we’d get letters and packages all the time with lava rocks in them and written apologies asking us to place the rock back ‘where it belongs’. We would dutifully place the rock back onto the fertile island soil with a little prayer for the sender’s redemption.

So if you have a lava rock you want to return, just know that you’re not alone. Thousands of pounds of lava rock are returned to the Islands of Hawai'i each year.

Federal law prohibits removing anything from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, but I’ve never heard of anyone being punished for taking a lava rock. It’s not illegal to take sand from the beaches unless it’s more than a gallon a day or for commercial purposes. Whether it’s a lava rock or sand that you want to return, you won’t be in any trouble with the law by returning it.

Here are some addresses for you to mail your items back to:

  • Sand from Hawaii state beaches can be sent to: Division of State Parks, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809. They will try to return it to the island of origin if you let them know where you got the sand.
  • Lava rocks taken from the islands of Maui, Lanai or Molokai should be returned to: Haleakala National Park (island of Maui), P.O. Box 369, Makawao, HI 96768-0369
  • Lava rocks taken from the Big Island of Hawai'i should be returned to: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, P.O. Box 52, Hawai’i National Park, HI 96718-0052
  • For rocks picked up on the island of Oahu, return to: Bernice P. Bishop Museum, State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, P.O. Box 19000-A, Honolulu, HI 96819
  • For rocks picked up on the island of Kauai, return to: Kokee Natural History Museum, P.O. Box 100, Kekaha, HI 96752

On a final note: No one is going to call you to let you know that your lava rock is safely back in Pele’s bosom, so be sure to pay a little extra (75 cents I think) for a Delivery Confirmation to let you know that your box was delivered. You can even track your box online at the US Postal Service website after you mail it off.

Without the Delivery Confirmation, I’d hate to picture you lying awake at night thinking “I wonder if that lava rock ever got back…”

Where You Can Mail Back Rocks or Sand:

show route and directions
A markerP.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809 -
Honolulu, HI 96809, USA
get directions

Division of State Parks

B markerP.O. Box 369, Makawao, HI 96768-0369 -
Makawao, HI, USA
get directions

Haleakala National Park

C markerP.O. Box 52, Hawai'i National Park, HI 96718-0052 -
get directions

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

D markerP.O. Box 19000-A, Honolulu, HI 96819 -
Honolulu, HI 96819, USA
get directions

Bernice P. Bishop Museum, State Museum of Natural and Cultural History

E markerP.O. Box 100, Kekaha, HI 96752 -
Kekaha, HI, USA
get directions

Kokee Natural History Museum

© 2013 Stephanie Launiu


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    • Vic 4 months ago

      This is sillly , This is made up by the national parks to discorige people from taking rocks from the park . The touer companies went along this was back in the seventies . You know you can get Hawaiian lava rocks at garden supplies , right?

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 2 years ago from Hawai'i

      @Arrow: Thank you for your concern about the lava rocks that were given to you as a gift. Since they seem to have caused you no problem, and you felt a strong connection to the land when you were here, I wouldn't worry too much. Keep this article handy in case you do decide to return them. If you've been keeping up with the news, Pele has had her hands full lately with her march towards Pahoa on the Big Island. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Arrow 2 years ago

      I have a couple of small rocks that were sent to me by a friend who lives in Hilo (along with some shells, kukui nuts, driftwood, and a little sand), because she knows how strongly I was affected by my visit to Hawai'i and what a clear sense of "home" I experienced there. I didn't ask for the rocks, but I do treasure them. I wear one on a bracelet almost all the time.

      I haven't noticed any more bad luck than usual, but should I return these rocks anyway?


    • Arrow 2 years ago

      Thanks for this article. I've been wondering about a related question.

      A year or so ago, a friend who lives on the Big Island sent me a few small rocks she picked up on the beach bear Hilo, as well as some shells, kukui nuts, and driftwood. She sent them because she knows how strongly my visit there affected me and how clearly I felt Hawai'i is my true home, even though I've only been there once. I treasure the rocks and wear one (and a shell) on a bracket almost all the time.

      I did not take the rocks, nor did I ask for them. They were a gift from a friend. I haven't felt any more bad luck in my life than usual. But I still wonder if I should return them.

      I felt a closer connection to Hina when I was there than to Pele, but I certainly don't want to anger the Great Volcano Goddess!!!

      What do you think?

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 2 years ago from Hawai'i

      I wouldn't worry about the lava beads you bought.You are an innocent party, and there is probably no proof of where the lava was taken from. It may not even be from Hawai'i. Thank you for your concern. That is what counts the most. Aloha, Stephanie

    • jillglynndrew@yahoo.com 2 years ago

      I recently bought lava beads in Georgia to make bracelets, not knowing the history of lava. Would that be bad luck? If I sell this bracelets? I did not take it from Hawaii just bought it at a local bead store.

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 2 years ago from Hawai'i

      I am so glad that this article may have helped a little to bring the lava rock home. And to give you peace of mind. I wish you the very best in life, and I hope you have good memories of your island visit. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Abhiram 2 years ago

      I saw a sign closer to the Visitor Center near the Haleakalā National Park Summit saying not to take rocks because on the rocks there might be some microbial life or some other life living on or inside the rock. I picked up a rock which was tiny hoping no problem.

      As soon as i came home it was all bad luck. So as soon i looked up this article and other articles I immediately sent the Lava Rock to the address mentioned in this article to Maui. I am really sorry to have picked up the lava rock, please do forgive me .

    • Melehua 3 years ago

      One of my dear friends gave me a beautiful shell bracelet with some small black rocks stuck in it as a bridal gift for attending her wedding on the Big Island.Her sister in law picked and found the shell on the island. At first, I thought hitting my head several times, getting a minor concussion was no big thing. However upon returning home, I was sick and continued to be sick first with a severe cough for about three weeks, followed by flu like symptoms for over one month. I decided to give the bracelet back to Hawaii island. I hope I get better.

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 3 years ago from Hawai'i

      @katie m: Iʻve never heard of Peleʻs Curse affecting a child because there was no clear intent when he took the rocks. I think he is probably hurting himself more by keeping this unnecessary guilt in his subconscious. Perhaps he could go to a quiet, place outdoors in nature and send a little prayer up to clear any ill will that may be holding him back from reaching his best potential. I wish you both all the best. Aloha, Stephanie

    • katie m 3 years ago

      my husband brought back lava rocks from hawaii as a child and because of the bad luck, his mother tossed them out the car window driving down the road one day. He still has bad luck. is there a way to remove the course without the rocks? any help would be great!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 3 years ago from Hawai'i

      @kulewriter: Mahalo for your kind comments. You were gifted with that sighting on the Big Island years ago. Perhaps it was because of your wisdom and sensitivity. Aloha, Stephanie

    • kulewriter profile image

      Ronald Joseph Kule 3 years ago from Florida

      Write on! Visitors need to be aware of this energy and leave the island rocks to the islands and its ancestors.

      Back in the 1970s, I "saw," while walking along a small trail away from the towns on Big Island, King Kamahameha and his warriors marching toward me dressed in full regalia and headdresses. I heeded the legend of Pele and did not turn to look at them after they had passed through the spot where I stood with the hairs on my arms straight out from my body.

      All of us are a lot more immortal than we have been taught to believe. That's why people mail the stolen lava ricks back to their home.

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 3 years ago from Hawai'i

      @stephhicks68: I try not to be TOO superstitious. Of course, I've brought sea shells from Samoa when I visited there, and when our family went to the Grand Canyon they sell rocks right in the gift shop. I guess it's just a matter of the local norms. I had a funny experience last year when I brought a lava rock home as a favor for someone who had bad luck with it. A mutual friend put us in touch and I agreed to put it in my luggage home. I fly standby and free because our son works for Delta (yayy!). We've had nightmare standbys where we had to sleep overnight, etc. During the summer months it's always hard to get 2 standby seats to Hawaii because flights are full. This time we sailed through. Delta even got us on an earlier flight and because of a tailwind, our flight was 1/2 hour shorter than normal. Was it because the lava rock wanted to get home? Hmm...Aloha, Stephanie

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Quite interesting and helpful! I've always abided by the rule - Leave No Trace.... take only photographs and leave only footprints. That way, I don't have to have superstitious thoughts/beliefs.

      I wonder how many people return lava rocks to the Hawaiian islands every year? And I think its close to impossible to leave Hawaii without at least a little bit of sand in your suitcase! LOL!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 3 years ago from Hawai'i

      @natashalh: I agree with you! Who wants to tempt fate? But there are enough people out there who do take lava rocks home & then end up mailing them back to places in Hawaii that aren't even close to the volcano. Thanks for reading the hub and I look forward to reading more of your hubs, too. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      I'm not saying I believe in ghosts, but I once lived in a haunted house. The same thing applies here - I'm not sure I believe taking lava rocks is bad luck, but you're not going to find me doing it! There's just no reason to tempt fate.

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      @GuitarGear - Thanks for sharing your aunt's experience. I didn't want to spook anyone with this hub, but wanted those who needed it to have information on how they could return rocks to Hawaii. I hope this makes someone's life a little easier. Aloha!

    • GuitarGear profile image

      Walter Holokai 4 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      My aunt was a school teacher on Oahu. On a field trip to the big island one of her students picked up a lava rock and brought it back to the classroom without her knowledge. After a string of unfortunate events she somehow discovered the rock still in the student's desk. She returned it to the site where it was found and things returned to normal. When I was there on a visit she cautioned me against taking lava rocks back with me to the mainland as souvenirs and told me this story. I took it as a safety tip and in turn pass it on to friends who are headed to Hawaii on vacation. Thanks!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      Thank you! Sounds like you saved yourself the trouble of sending a rock home. Glad your wife had heard about the legend. Hope it's been a good 20 years and congratulations on the longevity. Aloha, Stephanie

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Steph. Twenty years ago while on our honeymoon in Hawaii I wanted to take home a piece of lava. My wife told me about the legend of people having bad luck so I didn't take it. I also did not want to disturb the landscape. Thanks for the history lesson on this legend, very interesting. Great job. VU, sharing, etc....

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      Photographs and great memories are always the best treasures we can keep from vacations. I'm glad you had a chance to visit Hawai'i and mahalo nui for reading my hub. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      I too was warned by the locals not to take any rock home with me when visiting the Volcano National Park on Big Island, for fear of incurring the wrath of Pele! I'm not really superstitious but took heed anyway, out of respect for the island - and just in case! It was an incredible place to visit, but all I took home were photographs and great memories :)

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      @Nell Rose: Thanks so much for your kind comments.

      @moonlake: I do hope you will be able to make a trip to Hawaii someday & will remember the story of the lava rocks.

      @hawaiianodysseus: Great to hear from you. Thanks for reading my hub. Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi, what a fascinating myth or urban legend! mind you being me I would probably send it back too! not that I am superstitious you understand, its just, well, you know just in case! lol! seriously, fascinating hub, voted and shared, nell

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      This is very interesting. I never knew this if I make it to Hawaii I will make sure not to bring home lava rocks. I don't need any bad luck. Voted up and shared.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      How very interesting, Hawaiian scribe! Thanks for sharing this information!

      Hope you and yours are off to a great start in 2013! Nice to read a new article of yours! Aloha!

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