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 of celebration and reflection.

What is Matariki?

Matariki is a star cluster which 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’.

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

Christchurch - Canterbury
Tekapo Canterbury , Christchurch - Canterbury

When is Matariki?

The Māori lunar calendar begins in the month of Pipiri (June-July), when Matariki rises in New Zealand’s northeast sky.

The dates change slightly every year. 

Matariki 2020 dates:

  • May 15: The date Matariki sets and disappears from the sky in New Zealand
  • July 13-16: The rising of Matariki. This is the period when, before dawn, you can see the stars of Matariki just above the horizon in the northeast.

Matariki activities: How can you celebrate the Māori New Year?

Traditionally, Matariki festivities followed the harvesting of crops when the pātakapātaka (food storehouses) were full, freeing up time for celebrations to honour ancestors and revel in life.

Today, people come together to remember their ancestors, share food, sing, tell stories and play music.

Find Matariki events around New Zealand in 2020. 

Auckland

New Zealand’s largest city has more than 100 events including a virtual dawn karakia (commemoration), exhibitions and performances.

Wellington

The capital celebrates with spectacular light projections on Te Papa Tongarewa and live performances starting from July 17.

Wanaka

Further south, join Kahu Youth’s Matariki Celebrations with a community hangi, workshops and performances in Wanaka on July 25.

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.

You might also be interested in