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
When I got back from Hawaii, I was sick for 2 weeks, lost the connection with my boyfriend and some of my fishes have died with no symptoms and many others are now sick. My dog possibly is developing cataracts. Should I mail back the keychains with sand in them? I bought them in a shop. Does it count as taking from Pele?
It is not considered "taking from Pele" when you buy something at a tourist venue or shop. Whoever removed sand from the beach to make a commercial product is the one who committed the "hewa' or wrong in the first place. I'm sorry to hear about your string of bad luck, and I'm sending my best wishes for an end to your misfortunes.Helpful 1
We went to the black sand beach at Hana, Maui and without me knowing, some sand went into my shoe as we walked by. The waves wet my shoes and when I brought the shoes back, I noticed the sand inside. It’s a little tiny bag. Not sure if that’s the reason for my bad luck. I didn’t take it on purpose. Should I return it?
No, you don't need to return the sand. It sounds as if the sand got into your shoe without you intending it. I'm sorry to hear that you've had bad luck since returning home. If you live near the ocean or a lake, you might want to take the sand into the water there and release it. If not, plant something outside of your home and put the black sand around the root so that it can help something grow. Thanks for your question, and best of luck to you.Helpful 2
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
We visited Oahu almost a year ago; I cannot begin to describe the terrible luck we've had over the last 10 months. IF we brought home anything we shouldn't have it was by mistake, and neither of us knows about it. If this is the source of our terrible luck, is there a way to "reverse the curse" from Hawai'i without knowing what the item was that we mistakenly took?
I'm sorry to hear about your bad luck since visiting Hawaii. It doesn't sound like anything from Hawaii is the cause of it. I'll say a little prayer for you in hopes that the karma clears up.Helpful 9
© 2013 Stephanie Launiu