The Prime Minister called it our "first authentically Māori public holiday" and, for the hardiest, commemorations began before dawn.
Te Rā Aro ki a Matariki officially began with a traditional hautapu (food offering) ceremony at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington before the sun rose yesterday.
Celebrations in te ao Māori of the rise of the Matariki cluster which, for most iwi, signals the beginning of te tau hou Māori (Māori New Year) also included honouring those lost since the last rising, giving thanks for the present and looking forward to the promises of the new year.
Matariki offered "a space where there is room for us all", Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at yesterday morning's ceremony.
"We are united under the same sky," she told the large crowd.
"But as we recognise a time in our calendar that is so unique to Māori, some may ask whether this truly can be a day that our nation can unite behind.
"I would argue, wholeheartedly and absolutely, yes. This is now an official holiday that does not divide us by Māori ancestry or other, rather, it unites us under the stars of Aotearoa."
Fireworks were also planned last night in the capital, while Ahi Kā - light projections, displays and performances - have been taking place after dark at the waterfront since Thursday, and continue until tomorrow.
Events were also held in other centres yesterday to mark Matariki, with many continuing over the next couple of weeks.
Nelson held a Matariki festival, and a mākete pō (night market) and waka ama along the Maitai River were also planned, along with fireworks.
In Auckland, some of the more than 80 Matariki events planned over three weeks got under way despite dreary skies, including all-day musical and kapa haka performances at Takutai Square yesterday.
Vector Lights also lit up Auckland's Harbour Bridge last night, with a special light show representing Ngāti Whātua's enduring relationship with the land across the centuries.
In Christchurch, the Tirama Mai lights festival returned to the city centre last night and would remain until July 3, featuring light displays, illuminated artworks and immersive experiences.
In Waikato, the Matariki Ki Waikato festival will continue until July 17, including market days in Hamilton, Raglan and Ngāruawāhia, and a self-guided star walk trail at Hamilton Gardens.
Others have chosen to use the new long weekend for a winter mini-break, travelling around the country to see their favourite people and places.
Skifields took the opportunity to acknowledge the special day, with the upper South Island's Rainbow Ski Area starting its season yesterday, and Queenstown's Coronet Peak opening before dawn to host a Matariki star viewing, karakia, and astronomy and Māori culture discussion at the top of Greengates chairlift.
Dr Rangi Mātāmua, an indigenous studies and Māori astronomy expert who campaigned for the new public holiday, was "elated" by the national response to Matariki.
"I believe that this is the first reintroduced indigenous holiday anywhere in the world. And it is part of this sharing of culture, sharing of identity.
"We're using that culture here in Aotearoa and identity to really become part of who we are."