It had been in the planning for four weeks, and a so-called one-in-500-year flood, a sluggish economy and Covid-19 were never going to deter the organisers of last month's Puanga Matariki Whangaroa Festival, culminating with a dinner at the Kaeo Rugby Club.

The dinner was the climax of four weeks of wananga, about Matariki and Puanga, featuring what Rueben Taipari described as a dazzling three-course hakari, music and laughter.

It had taken a huge effort by many people to reach that point, Nyze Porter Manuel, from Matangirau, co-ordinating communications between Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa social manager Susan Apiata, and Robyn Taurua, from Kaitiaki Whangaroa, to stage five events over the month of Pipiri tahi, from June's new moon to July's, Taipari aligning the programme with the Maramataka handed down by kaumatua Ihaka Poata (Te Whānau Pani Hapū).

The first noho was hosted by Ngaitupango (Te Ngaere), where local kaumātua Kiwi Herewini, a decorated soldier and ordained minister, said he had come to learn about Matariki and its relevance to Whangaroa. More than 50 people attended a dawn ceremony above Matauri to welcome Puanga, the star for Ngāpuhi that precedes Matariki and marks the beginning of the Māori new year. Matariki rose two mornings later, in a clear sky, on the eastern horizon to the left of Kopunui.

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The ceremony was led by storyteller Harry Clark (Ngatiwai), with a waerea tauparapara from local Pupuke Reo exponent Raniera Kaio. Korey Atama blessed the morning hakari, the first of many over the next four weeks.

Wananga over the following three weeks included presentations from Heeni Hoterene (Maramataka Māori, Living by the Māori moon, which Dr Lance O'Sullivan described as the best presentation he had heard in a long time.

There were panels about social issues, where Northland Police Prevention Manager Inspector Chris McClellan and Constable Ihaka Lenden, from Waihapa, cited communications as the biggest hurdle to clear. Janelle Popata, from Te Hiku FM 97.1, who has a kura kaupapa kaiako teaching background, spoke about the importance of Matauranga Māori in education and planning, while Mangamuka kaumātua Pai Tahere urged everyone to keep Maramataka simple, embrace it, and live by the kaupapa of Matariki.

More healthy, delicious local kai was provided with TROW chairman Murray Moses and CEO Toa Faneva, who Taipari said did a fine job of catering (and dishes).

That was followed a week later by a community event for families at the Kaeo Memorial Hall, TROW office and Papa Hapū o Whaingaroa building. Parents and children were shown how to make manuaute (kites) by Harko Brown, while local weavers Karen and Yaz Smith shared their skill with kòrari (flax) and flowers, and Ngāti Kuri expert Betsy Young covered pingao.

"Northland MP Matt King loved the great waiata on a fearsome rock guitar by Riqi Harawira," Taipari said.

"Food sovereignty was the theme, with forage food workshops by Anna Valentine, while Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis enjoyed earth oven pizzas with Bryce Smith, and another hakari of free hangi, to lift the winter blues, was shared with everybody,." he added.

"The Kurmanji Circus turned up to do a kids' class of juggling and hoops under the New World Whangārei marquee, so everybody had fun," he added.

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"Thomas Hawtin kicked off another day of wananga a week later, on environmental projects that 13 local environmental organisations spoke to, including national award winner and local dairy farmer Jeff Martin, and Sandra Heihei on her award-winning mahi to save native manu. Many had never met before, so it was great to see the regional collaboration. The highlight was the free organic, eco-packaged, no-waste hangi the local #girlscanhangitoo served.

"So many other presentations that haven't been mentioned, acknowledgement of the volunteers, local hapū and community support to make this month of noho wananga so successful, and especially our youth, who participated in amazing ways, has the thanks from Nga Hapū o Whaingaroa and the Puanga Matariki festivities team, with the exciting challenge ahead of planning for next year. He mihi nunui rawa atu kia koutou katoa."