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 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…
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 (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:
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
© 2013 Stephanie Launiu