"Another big year," I said to myself quietly as I pulled my jacket in even tighter around my chest, desperate for it to keep me warm.
It was near arctic cold on Friday morning when we all gathered at Whakaniwha by the slipway at Pūtiki to mark Puanga, the beginning of the Māori New Year for our region.
More than a hundred of us joined together at the river at 6am, to share ruruku and waiata, like we do every year for Puanga.
My hands were cupped around my mouth for extra warmth as we overlooked our awa.
The water was calm and glistening, and as it flowed, it provided a space for us to reflect on the year that has been and all it entailed.
To be grateful and to be sad, together. The experience was therapeutic.
This Puanga hit me in the chest a bit harder than others with everything that has happened in the past year.
A cornerstone of this event is acknowledging our loved ones who have died since last Puanga.
We huddled around a fire and a list of names of the dead was read aloud.
I think about our matriarchs, my two grandmothers, Nanna McLachlan and Nanna Teki, who both left us within weeks of each other in late 2020. My heart still aches.
I think about the personal challenges that my whānau has faced and overcome in the past year, and I take stock of all the changes in our lives.
I left my career in journalism and took up work for my iwi. My baby started school. We got a puppy. My Dad retired. We bought a house.
From the slipway, I can see to the left where the river meets the bank where our new family home on Taupo Quay sits, and my heart skips a beat.
It was my Nanna Teki's home for over 50 years and we have just bought it, taking the keys yesterday.
There are so many emotions at play, but the timing feels significant.
I welcome Puanga as a time for reflection but also for celebrating what lies ahead.
Most of you will be familiar with Matariki marking the Māori New Year but I hope it is becoming more common knowledge at least locally that those of us in the Whanganui and Taranaki regions give more prominence to Puanga for ushering in our New Year.
Matariki refers to the star cluster Pleaides, which we see clearly in late June and July.
But Puanga is Rigel, which is the brightest star in the Orion constellation. It is usually the star we see first and best from our part of the country.
Puanga or Matariki have always been a big part of Māori society from early on.
It usually followed the harvesting of kai or crops, which meant the pātaka kai or food storehouses were full, and this freed up time to honour our dead, to celebrate and to plan ahead.
Traditionally, our people would wake up early to see the stars too. It is said that the visibility and clarity of the stars would offer signs about how well the next crops would grow.
They would chant incantations and prayers and then follow with celebration, dance and sharing kai.
Puanga is still celebrated by many by eating food and spending time with whānau.
UCOL and several schools around Whanganui even held events to celebrate it this week.
My sons' school Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi had dinner together, played games and went to the Ward Observatory to check out the stars.
It reminded me of my younger days at Kokohuia when we would stay overnight at school and get up at freezing o'clock in the morning to gaze at the sky.
It is good to see mainstream New Zealand growing its acknowledgement of this traditional Māori event.
We saw this in the Government's decision last year to make Matariki a public holiday from 2022.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday announced the dates this new holiday would fall on for the next 30 years.
This will be the first ever public holiday designed for a specifically Māori kaupapa and it is long overdue.
I hope it signals a growing appreciation for the Māori culture in Aotearoa, and in time will lead to more Kiwi families teaching their children about this tradition and helping to keep it alive.
I do not know about you, but I always feel a real sense of relief when I am able to mark the end of a year or a chapter in life.
Puanga gives me permission to take reprieve and to let go of some of the more challenging aspects of the year that has passed. It helps me to make peace with things.
But as I said earlier, it is also a time to celebrate and look ahead to what is on the horizon.
Over the next week, my little family will be moving into Nan's old house, where we will build our own future.
And that is certainly something to celebrate and look forward to.