Celebration of Puanga - the Māori New Year in Whanganui - begins at dawn tomorrow with Puanga Awa Karakia.

Those gathered at the Putiki Slipway from 5.45am can take part in prayers for the new year, some stargazing and breakfast at nearby Putiki Marae. It's a free event, open to everyone. To register, email nicdryen5@gmail.com.

That ceremony is just the beginning of the Puanga Festival.

For Māori from the lower North Island and upper South Island west coast, the star Puanga (Rigel) in the dawn sky marks the beginning of the new year. And ever since the Te Awa Tupua exhibition at Te Papa finished in 2006, the Whanganui Regional Māori Tourism Organisation has put together a series of public events for the occasion.

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This year there were karakia at Tūroa ski area at dawn on June 11. The Whanganui karakia follow and that evening there's a Rāranga Whānau Night at the Davis Library, starting at 5.30pm, to try Māori traditional weaving.

The final event is a Puanga Kai Night at Te Ao Hou Marae in Aramoho, when the marae's riverside development programme will be launched.

In between are lots of other opportunities to celebrate in the cold season. Whanganui library has children's story times in the Davis and Gonville libraries and four Puanga craftmaking sessions in June and July.

There's a chance to research whakapapa (genealogy) at the Alexander Library on July 14, and two wānanga about the Ratana movement, one on July 1 at 1pm and another on July 16 at 2pm.

Māori business network Te Manu Atatū is holding a Puanga networking session with food and drink on July 27.

Whanganui Regional Museum educators Margie Beautrais and Āwhina Twomey will be teaching children about Puanga in terms two and three, and a starlab will be touring schools. The public get to experience the starlab at the museum from June 26 to 30.

Whanganui's Gallery on Guyton has two Puanga exhibitions, one opening on June 15 and the other on July 13.

In former times Māori measured time in lunar months - 13 to a year. The new year began in the first month of winter. It was a time when people came together after their summer and autumn food gathering.

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It was a time for feasting and celebration, and indoor activities such as learning, storytelling, weaving, crafts and planning for the future.

For more information about Puanga events, go to www.puanga.org.nz.