Matariki is a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar which marks the start of the Māori New Year.

Signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in our night sky, this is a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.

Matariki rising over Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

What is Matariki?

Matariki is a star cluster that appears in the early morning sky in New Zealand during the mid-winter months.

The star cluster is well known throughout the world and at different times of the year can be seen around the globe. It is one of the brightest clusters in the sky, containing hundreds of member stars.

Matariki has different names around the world. In English, it is called by its ancient Greek name, Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. In Hawaiian it is Makali’i, ‘eyes of royalty', and in Japan it is Subaru, meaning ‘gathered together’.

What is the significance of Matariki?

The rise of Matariki signals the Lunar ​​​New Year. It is a time to acknowledge the year past, celebrate the present and plan and prepare for the year ahead.

Historically, the stars were closely tied to planting, harvesting and hunting. If the stars appeared clear and bright, it signified an abundant season ahead.

When is Matariki?

Matariki takes place in mid-winter from late May to early July. The dates vary according to tribes and geography.

This year (2021) the reappearance of the constellation will be visible around the 2nd of July. The best time to view the Matariki cluster is early morning, just before dawn.

How to celebrate Matariki

Traditionally, Matariki festivities included lighting ritual fires, making offerings, and celebrations of various kinds to farewell the dead, honour ancestors and celebrate life.

Nowadays, people all across Aotearoa come together to remember their ancestors, share food, sing songs, tell stories and play music. Matariki is about reconnecting with your home and whānau.

How to spot the Matariki stars

As one of the star clusters nearest to Earth, this constellation is one of the most obvious to the naked eye.

To find them, look to the northeast horizon before sunrise.

Then, search for the distinct line of stars that forms Tautoru, or Orion’s belt. Keep moving your gaze north of these three stars until you see a cluster of tiny stars that are roughly as wide as Tautoru is long. These are the Matariki stars.

The meaning of each Matariki star

The Matariki star cluster contains hundreds of stars but only nine are visible to the naked eye. Each of these nine stars has a distinct story and significance in Māori culture.

According to one Māori myth, the cluster represents a whaea or mother - Matariki - and her six daughters Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waipunarangi, Waitī, Waitā and Ururangi.

Matariki

The name Matariki refers to both the star cluster as a whole and a specific star, which signifies reflection, hope, our connection to the environment and the health and wellbeing of people. 

Pōhutukawa

Pōhutukawa is the star that serves as a reminder of those who have passed on, encouraging us to take the time to remember them and acknowledge their impact on our lives. 

Tupuānuku

Tupuānuku (“tupu” means ‘to grow’ and “nuku” is the shortened version of “Papatuanuku” meaning ‘Earth’) is the star connected with everything that grows in the ground to be harvested or gathered for food.

Tupuārangi

Tupuārangi is the star associated with food sources that come from the sky, such as birds, or fruit and berries from trees.

Waitī

Waitī is connected with all freshwater bodies and the food sources sustained by those waters. Waitī watches over freshwater environments such as awa (rivers), roto (lakes), kūkūwai (wetlands), and waipuna (springs).

Waitā

Waitā represents the ocean and the seafood that can be harvested from it. This star encourages us to respect our coasts, oceans and marine life. 

Waipuna-ā-Rangi:

Waipuna-ā-Rangi is connected with rain, hail and snow.

Ururangi

Ururangi is connected with the various winds.

Hiwa-i-te-Rangi

Hiwa-i-te-Rangi is a wishing star, helping us to realise our hopes and aspirations for the coming year. 

 

The best places to stargaze in New Zealand

As well as being home to Dark Sky Sanctuaries, New Zealand has plenty of remote destinations with clear, wide open skies that are prime stargazing spots.

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