How to Return Lava Rocks to the Islands of Hawai'i
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 visitors 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 a lava rock on your living room shelf means 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 the most recent volcanic eruption happened in 2018. Hot lava flowed for three months and destroyed over 700 homes and 14 square miles of land.
It's no wonder that legend has it that 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…
Kilauea Lava Flow of 2018
Kilauea Lava Flowing 2016
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 health and happiness.
So if you have a lava rock you want to return, just know that you’re not alone. Thousands of pounds of lava rocks 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 (80 cents I think) for an Electronic Delivery Confirmation Receipt to let you know that your box was delivered. You can 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:
Division of State Parks
Haleakala National Park
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Bernice P. Bishop Museum, State Museum of Natural and Cultural History
Kokee Natural History Museum
Questions & Answers
Would it be okay to take a lava rock from Hawai'i if I planned on creating a sort of art piece or small wearable keepsake out of it? It would be quite small and the art piece, would that be disrespectful?
It's never ok to remove a lava rock from it's original location in Hawaii, but if you have already removed one, then an art piece might be acceptable to make. I wouldn't make a piece of wearable art or jewelry with it, though. Keep the rock as close to the earth/land/soil wherever you are.Helpful 1
I am 20 years old. In middle school I think I brought something back from a beach while visiting Maui. But I didnt know about the Pele Curse. I have recently heard about the Pele Curse, but I can't remember what I brought back from Hawaii. Someone told me I have bad luck because of that. But if I didnt know about the curse and didn't bring back many things, should I be ok?
Don't give it another thought. You're fine. The Pele Curse is a legend. Some people get spooked by it because they purposely removed lava rocks from the volcano & they know they shouldn't have. In your case, you don't even remember whether or not you removed anything, and you were just a kid then anyway. Wishing you a future full of adventure and prosperity. And I do hope you will be able to visit Hawaii again. Aloha, StephanieHelpful 1
I took sand from Hawai'i in 2009. My now ex wife dumped it out. I just found remnants of it and have carefully swept it up and put it in a bottle. If I send what I have back will it remove the curse?
I'm sorry that the sand has been causing you negative vibes for years now. I don't think that there is any curse related to it. If you want to clear yourself of the negativity, you might consider taking it to the beach, a lake or river and releasing the sand. It will find its way home. Or you could use it in the soil surrounding a flowering plant. The sand would then be helping to give life to something else.Helpful 4
I took red and black sand from our trip to Haha for a vacation box idea. Should I return the sand?
If you only have a small amount of sand and have good intentions for its use, I'd say to go ahead and do your vacation box. With over 9 million visitors a year, you can imagine what our beaches would look like if everybody took sand.Helpful 11
If someone came back from Hawaii and gave me a lava rock does that mean I’m cursed? I did ask for it before I realized it was bad luck.
No, it doesn't mean you're cursed. It's a legend about a curse. Some people experience bad luck after removing lava rock from Hawaii; others don't. If you decide to return it to Hawaii, there are addresses in the article of where to return it. If you decide to keep it, I always advise people to put it out in your garden or outdoors somewhere near plants. I hope this answers your question, and that you only have good luck in all you do.Helpful 9
© 2013 Stephanie Launiu