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Black Sand Blues

By Dr Rob Brander on July 6, 2011 in Other

We’ve just come out of a cold and wet autumn with two months of winter still to go so you’re probably thinking it’s time for a holiday somewhere warm… Hawaii perhaps? Now you don’t need to be a hardcore surfer to enjoy Hawaii. There are plenty of balmy breezes, background ukulele music, outlet malls, cheap pineapples, lush volcanic scenery and a phenomenal exchange rate to keep the whole family happy. And aren’t those black sand beaches cool?

Well, not really. When it’s sunny, they get downright hot. Burning hot. The type of hot that makes you sprint to the water to stop the flesh on the soles on your feet from falling off. You see, the colour black soaks up the sun’s rays really well. No better example of this exists than the New Zealand cricket team’s genius decision a few years back to adopt all-black uniforms for their summer tour of Australia. This caused a number of the players to drop like flies during a trial match against Australia A and end up on intravenous drips. Still, traditions are important. And so are curses, which is what you’ll end up with if you take a small jar of Hawaiian black sand home with you as a nice little souvenir.

Apparently Pele, the volcano goddess of Hawaii, inflicts some seriously bad juju on anyone who steals lava or black sand from the islands. You just have to go to a visitor centre to see all the samples mailed back from around the world with the accompanying letters saying “I’m sorry, please can I have my life back?” to get the point.

The thing is, if you dig a little deeper, there is no curse. Years ago, a local National Park ranger got fed up with people illegally helping themselves to bits of the National Park so he spread the rumour around and it eventually grew and grew to the point where it now applies to many black sand beaches around the world. So there you go – it’s a myth. On the other hand, my sister took some black sand despite the curse and ended up having an impacted wisdom tooth only days later, so you never know!

Black sand beaches are made up of ‘heavy minerals’, which come from volcanic rocks. That’s why volcanic locations such as Hawaii, New Zealand, Santorini and the Canary Islands have black sand beaches. Even our beaches contain black sand from Australia’s ancient volcanic past, but you don’t notice it because, being heavier, the black sand minerals have winnowed their way down through the lighter coloured quartz sand forming layers well below the surface.

After storms, people often think the black streaks on the beaches are oil stains. They’re not, they’re just exposed patches of black sand. I know all this because I collect sand and if you think that’s a bit geeky, check out the International Sand Collectors Society ( It’s an extremely trendy and hip hobby and I wouldn’t be surprised if this article triggers a new craze in the Eastern Suburbs. Or not.

Dr Rip’s Essential Beach Book’ is now available from iTunes as an eBook!