Elisabeth Easther has found some stellar ways to observe Matariki this year

The arrival last week of the constellation Matariki (otherwise known as Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters) in the pre-dawn sky signals the beginning of Te Tau Hou, or Maori New Year. This is a time for turning over new leaves, for taking stock and for planting.

Pita Turei, writer, film-maker and orator, recalls how Matariki observances began for him. "In 1989, 150 years after the signing of the declaration of independence by Te Wherowhero, I attended the observation of Matariki at Kaiwhare on the Manukau Harbour.

The next year we observed Matariki from Maungawhau. In 2003 a group of Ngati Whatua, Ngaitai and Ngati Maru worked with [the former] Auckland, Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere cities to grow an awareness of these ancient traditions. Now we are joined by thousands who recognise the longest night, shivering [in] the dawn for a glimpse of Matariki rising, to witness the cycle of life begin again."

This year, there are more ways to celebrate Matariki than ever, so be sure to get along to celebrate this most New Zealand of festivals.


This Weekend:
Toy Making at Te Tuhi
Today and tomorrow, 9.30am-4.30pm. 13 Reeves Rd, Pakuranga, Auckland, tetuhi.org.nz. Free.

Te Tuhi, a cornerstone of Pakuranga's vibrant arts community, is running traditional toy making workshops where children will be able to build and play with traditional Maori toys. One plaything, the porotiti, is a spinning, humming disc - although that explanation doesn't really do it justice.

The programme also includes weaving workshops, concerts, films (Kerosene Creek and Matariki) and the unveiling of Dion Hitchens' murals. Local legend Taini Drummond will lead storytelling sessions for preschoolers with the focus on Te Timatanga, the creation.

Native plants and their medicinal properties
Today 10am-2pm. Uxbridge Creative Centre, 35 Uxbridge Rd, Howick. Phone (09) 535 6467 to book. $48. R18.

A workshop for people interested in learning about the native plants considered to be a taonga, a gift to be respected for their medicinal properties. Learn the secrets of the forest from Ngaronoa Renata, who knows all about nature's pharmacy. The interactive workshop will teach plant names and harvesting methods, health remedies and the importance of respecting nature including the appropriate protocols (tikanga) used before, during and after harvesting.

Te Manawa - The Heart
Today, 11am-12pm. Corban Estate Art Centre, Henderson, ceac.org.nz. $3, under 5s free.

The Matariki programme is bursting with interesting events. Te Manawa is the story of Mauri, a young girl who accidentally discovers time travel, and a family drama and music show about navigation, planting, harvesting and the celebration of life and death. Join in on two workshops - Takaro (traditional Maori games) and Oneuku Waka (clay canoe) from 1-2.30pm for children aged 5-13 ($3 each). Check out the two art exhibitions, a film night and the concert on July 6 (7pm), Te Mara o Te Po - The Night Garden, featuring Mihirangi and Black Sand Diva, fire poi, DJs and more (tickets $15-25).

Matariki Dawn planetarium show
Today and tomorrow, 7pm. Stardome Observatory & Planetarium, 670 Manukau Rd, One Tree Hill Domain, Auckland,Bookings essential, stardome.org.nz. $8-10.

This show has been specially created for Matariki, and takes visitors on a journey to see Matariki up close, teaching the significance of the constellation to Maori and explaining why it appears at dawn around this time each year.

Matariki Paparewa on the Waterfront
Until July 21. Silo Park, corner Beaumont and Jellico Sts, Auckland, silopark.co.nz. Free.

Matariki Paparewa, a design project created by students from Unitec's Te Hononga Maori Architecture Studio, uses the gantry in Silo Park as the stage for 15 bamboo flag masts. The structure is based on a traditional form of celebratory Maori architecture called the Hakai Stage. Silo Park is also hosting markets, outdoor movies and light and art installations. Younger visitors can stop by and make time capsules and navigational boats. Children's workshops tomorrow and July 19, 20, 21 from 11am-2pm.

Next week:
Wiki O Te Reo - Maori Language Week
July 1-7, 9am-5pm.

Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, Viaduct, Auckland. Free for Auckland residents.

Acclaimed broadcaster, poet, scholar and leader, Haare Williams (Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, Tongowhakaata and Tuhoe) has created English translations of Maori proverbs on a taonga trail through the museum; wise words that relate beautifully to the sea. Be sure to check out the Kupe's Sites exhibition of the key landmarks discovered by Kupe. On Sunday July 7, board Ted Ashby to explore key Maori place names in the Waitemata Harbour with Haare Williams as your host, fitting for the official theme "Nga ingoa Maori, Maori names". Te Reo sailings 12 noon, 2pm. Tickets from $15 adults, $7.50 child.

Bookings: info@maritimemuseum.co.nz or Ph (09) 373 0800; maritimemuseum.co.nz.

Honour Tour
Te Ahu Centre, Kaitaia, July 4; Kaikohe War Memorial Hall, July 5; Dargaville Town Hall, July 6; Forum North Whangarei, July 7; Liberty Centre, Whakatane, July 11; The Blue Baths, Rotorua, July 12; Kingsgate, Hamilton, July 13; Dorothy Winston Centre, Auckland Girls' Grammar, July 14; Whanganui War Memorial Hall, July 19; Pipitea Marae, Wellington; Hawke's Bay Opera House, July 21.

Four of Maori music's leading female voices have banded together for a special North Island tour to celebrate Matariki. The Honour tour features Whirimako Black, who stars in the movie White Lies, Betty-Anne Monga (the voice of veteran funk band Ardijah) along with rising stars Maisey Rika and Ria Hall. The quartet's performances start in Kaitaia on Thursday, with the 11 dates finishing in Hastings on July 21. "We will combine our musical journeys and celebrate our signature songs while paying tribute to musicians, songwriters and artists who left us with their musical legacy," says Monga about the concert series.

The rest of July:
Hobsonville Point: Matariki Night Sky Festival
Friday July 12, 6.30-9pm. Sunderland Lodge, 5 Marine Parade, Hobsonville Point, Auckland, facebook.com/hobsonvillepoint. Free.

Enjoy a community picnic and entertainment by storytellers and local musicians. Then, as darkness falls, children from nearby schools and early childhood education centres will display their Matariki-inspired illuminations in a lantern parade. Make and bring a Matariki lantern; there will prizes awarded for the best. Astronomer Bill Thomas will also be on hand to help people identify the stars and to discuss the wonders of celestial navigation.

2degrees Kapa Haka Super 12s
Saturday July 13, 9am-4pm. The Cloud, Queens Wharf, Auckland, 2degreesmobile.co.nz. Free.

One of the most exciting and energetic Matariki events, the 2degrees Kapa Haka Super12s showcases the finest kapa haka talent in all of Aotearoa. Teams of 12 battle it out for 12 minutes to wow the judges; winners take home a share of $12,000 worth of prizes. The event encourages young competitors to put a modern twist on traditional kapa haka concepts, working creatively to merge waiata with poi, haka and other elements.

Te Ara Rama Matariki - Matariki Light Trail
July 13-20, 6-9pm. Maybury Park, 108 Line Rd, Glen Innes. Free.

For one illuminating week, take a stroll by the Omaru River along the flax-lined pathway, and view animations and light installations telling the stories of Matariki. Share traditional Maori food prepared every evening by local community groups and, on the last night, there'll be a fireworks display (from the car park next to the Glen Innes Library). Enjoy this area from a nocturnal point of view. There are light trails in several other places, too, including the tiny 50-pupil Oromahoe School outside Kerikeri on today from 4-8pm.

Matariki Art Market, Auckland Museum
July 14, 10am-5pm. Auckland Museum, Domain Drive, Auckland Domain, Parnell, aucklandmuseum.com. Free.

Visit the Museum during Matariki and help celebrate the skill and innovation of Maori artists. Visitors can listen to musicians, performers and poets as they bring the Museum's collections alive. This is an opportunity for guests to cherish the world of Maoritanga, to listen to stories passed down through the generations, to hear artists talk about their work and inspiration, and purchase artworks.

New Zealand Post Manu Aute Kite Day
Saturday July 20, 10am-5pm. Kitemoana St, Orakei Marae. Free.

Flying kites is an age-old Maori custom this time of year, as kites are symbols that connect the heavens with the earth. This favourite colourful Matariki event sees the skies above Bastion Point filled with all manner of soaring creations. There will also be performances, a bouncy castle, face painting and plenty of assistance for people who want to construct their own kites. And if you're hungry, head for the hangi. If you can't make it to Bastion Point, don't despair as there are plenty of kite-flying events throughout the city: Winston Park, Mt Roskill, July 6; Mangere Bridge, July 6; Trusts Arena, Henderson, July 10.

For details on everything else, visit matarikifestival.org.nz