Flaxmere Primary School students run between the pou at the Ātea a Rangi Star Compass to identify where the sun rises and sets during winter. Photo / Duncan Brown

Schoolchildren and members of the public are this week learning about Maori astronomy, traditional navigation, local history and the environment to mark the Winter Solstice - Te Takanga o te Ra.

The action was taking place at Ātea a Rangi Star Compass in Waitangi Regional Park, and over this week 20 Hawke's Bay schools were taking the opportunity to be part of the event, the first held since the site was completed.

The star compass was designed and installed by Ātea a Rangi Educational Trust in partnership with Hawke's Bay Regional Council, and both organisations, along with Sports Hawke's Bay, were involved in this week's activities.

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Yesterday students from Flaxmere and Twyford Primary Schools took part and enjoyed helping the regional council with some wetland planting as well as learning about the impact of plastic and rubbish in the ocean from representatives from Parakore/zero waste.

They also played traditional Māori games in conjunction with Sport Hawke's Bay, checked out the pop-up planetarium that had been erected at the car park and discovered more about the path of the sun during the different seasons using the star compass.

Ātea a Rangi Educational Trust's Phillip Smith said that in total anywhere between 1200 and 1500 people were taking parts in the event over the week, and that the children were getting a lot out of it.

"It's been awesome - they have been loving everything."

He said study packs had been sent to the schools prior to the event so the children had some knowledge that they were able to build on practically during their visit.

As well as the school activities, the venue was open to the public early each morning from 5.45am, for viewing Matariki and the winter Solstice sunrise (weather permitting).

For those keen to learn more about how the compass worked and the movement of the sun, stars and planets across the winter sky, people were on hand to explain.

Tonight, a whanau night would be open to the public from 6pm to 8pm, with storytelling for children, and star watching - both outside and in the pop-up planetarium - kapa haka and tasty kai (cash only).

Entry to this event was a gold coin, which would help fund a similar event next year.

A sold out F.A.W.C! event was taking place at the venue this Thursday, when guests would enjoy tasting and hearing about the origins and migration of traditional Pacific food as the ancestors migrated through the Pacific Islands.

The final pou was added to the compass and welcomed during the summer solstice in December last year - a year after the first carvings were installed.

The solstice rocks and 32 carved pou at the 50m-wide site were part of a transformation of the park, which included information displays on the many historic events around the vicinity, including the arrival of early Māori ancestors, James Cook on the Endeavour, and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.