What is Matariki?
Matariki marks the Māori New Year. It is the name of the star cluster Pleiades, and also the Māori name for one of the stars.
Matariki traditions depend on a place and its people. Different iwi have different kōrero about the Māori New Year; some Māori recognise nine stars in the cluster, some seven, and some as many as 25. The best way to learn more is to go to any of the kōrero or events your tangata whenua or local marae might be running or involved with. There are more than 100 Matariki events happening in communities around the country this season, including night walks, plantings, karakia, and talks. See eventfinda.co.nz for a full list.
When is Matariki?
Because Māori use a place-based environmental lunar calendar (maramataka) to recognise Matariki, it isn't on a set date every year. Instead, it's best thought of as a season. The constellation disappears from our skies in autumn, but we can begin to see it again in early winter just before the sun rises in the morning. For Māori, this appearance (in the correct lunar phase in the correct lunar month) resets the maramataka, and the new year starts. It's a time to remember and farewell loved ones, reflect on the past year, and prepare gardens, among other traditions.
Matariki is technically observed on July 13-16 this year based on the maramataka, though as Māori star lore (tātai arorangi) expert University of Waikato professor Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) says, observe it when feels right to you, based on your local time, view, and traditions.
Some iwi, such as those in the far north, Whanganui, Taranaki and parts of the South Island recognise the rise of Puanga (Rigel, the brightest star in Orion) as the time of the New Year instead, as Matariki is not as prominent in the sky; in the deep south, for example, Pūanga actually rises 45 minutes before Matariki.
How to see Matariki
It's easiest to see it when you're up somewhere high and dark, and the horizon is open and clear. Before the sky gets too bright from the rising sun, look east for a small, sparkly, vaguely arrow-shaped constellation. If you can't find it, find The Pot (Orion's belt), and look slightly north of its three prominent stars for Matariki. Because of the structure of our eyes, you can sometimes see it a bit more easily if you look just to the side of it with your gaze unfocused. Using a star app such as SkyView or Night Sky can help.
Find out more
Both Matamua's book Matariki: The Star of the Year and his Facebook page, Living By the Stars, are excellent places to learn more about this rich tradition, as well as other Māori star knowledge.
Seven great spots around New Zealand to see Matariki
1. Aotea/Great Barrier Island
This is a world-class, International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)-accredited Dark Sky Sanctuary that is pretty much unmatched in the world for the quality of its night sky – it's retained essentially all of its natural night-time darkness. Visit greatbarrier.co.nz for more information on dark sky experiences.
2. Waiheke Island
It's so close to the light pollution of our biggest city, but parts of Waiheke Island are surprisingly dark. A passionate team is working to make the island an accredited Dark Sky Park. Visit Dark Sky Waiheke Island on Facebook for information and updates.
3. Gisborne/Hawke's Bay
Gisborne is the first place to see the stars in New Zealand, and it's also home to the eastern-most astronomical observatory in the world. Go for a sail on a traditional waka hourua with Waka Voyagers, who will tell you more about tātai arorangi and traditional navigation - wakavoyagers.com.
4. Matatā, Bay of Plenty
The small town near Whakatāne is aiming to become New Zealand's next dark sky sanctuary destination and lodge formal protection of its skies with the IDA. Get in before it's hot.
Sharp, snowy mountains behind you, a dramatic coast in front, whales, wild seas and bright stars; Kaikōura is a wonderful place to pause this winter and reconnect with the natural world.
6. Cape Campbell, Marlborough
This spectacular, east-facing sweep of coastline is dominated by a striking black and white lighthouse that featured in the film, The Light Between Oceans. Stay in the historic cottages by visiting experiencecapecampbell.co.nz.
7: Central Auckland
If you can't quite travel out of the city, see the harbour bridge light up in a stunning display every evening from Wednesday June 24 to Sunday June 28, from 6pm to midnight. Designed by Rangi Matamua and Matariki Festival director Ataahua Papa (Waikato, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura), learn the story of the stars in the Matariki cluster and what they each represent. Find the accompanying narrative on the Vector Lights website,
For your guide to Auckland Council's Marariki Festival 2020 visitmatarikifestival.org.nz
· Naomi Arnold is the author of Southern Nights, a story of New Zealand astronomy, published by HarperCollins and available in all good bookstores.