Matariki is a significant cultural event celebrated in New Zealand, marking the beginning of the Māori New Year. Derived from the Māori language, "Matariki" refers to the Pleiades star cluster, which becomes visible in the pre-dawn sky during the winter months in the Southern Hemisphere. This celestial event holds great cultural and spiritual importance for the Māori people, serving as a time for reflection, renewal, and connection with their ancestral roots.

During the Matariki festival, which typically takes place in June or July, communities across New Zealand come together to commemorate this celestial event. The festivities involve a range of cultural activities, including traditional ceremonies, storytelling, dance performances, arts and crafts, and feasting. Each region and community may have its unique way of celebrating Matariki, emphasising local traditions and customs.

The significance of Matariki extends beyond the astronomical event. It serves as an opportunity to honour and pay respects to ancestors, acknowledge the bountiful harvest season, and prepare for the year ahead. The sighting of Matariki is seen as a symbol of new beginnings, hope, and aspirations. It is a time for personal reflection, setting goals, and fostering community connections.

Matariki has gained increased recognition and popularity in recent years, with more people embracing this cultural celebration across New Zealand. Schools, organisations, and local communities actively engage in Matariki events to promote cultural understanding and appreciation, fostering a sense of unity and pride in Māori heritage.

How to Find Matariki

Matariki can be seen low on the horizon in the northeast sky. The best time to look is between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. from mid-June onwards.

  1. Locate Tautoru: Start by finding Tautoru, which is known as the bottom three stars of 'the pot' or Orion's Belt.
  2. Spot Puanga: Look above Tautoru to find a bright star—this is Puanga (Rigel).
  3. Find Matariki: Look to the left of Tautoru to find the bright orange star, Taumata-kuku (Aldebaran). Draw an imaginary line from Tautoru, through Taumata-kuku, and continue until you reach a cluster of stars. This cluster is Matariki. With good eyesight, you can see individual stars. If the cluster appears fuzzy, try looking slightly above or below it for a clearer view!

Matariki can be seen with the naked eye. Due to its wide field of view, Matariki is best viewed using Astronz Binoculars. A telescope may only capture part of the cluster

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What is Matariki?

Matariki is a significant cultural event in New Zealand, marking the beginning of the Māori New Year. Celebrated by the indigenous Māori people and the wider New Zealand community, Matariki is a time for reflection, renewal, and celebration. The festival is observed when the Pleiades star cluster, also known as Matariki, becomes visible in the pre-dawn sky, typically during late May or early June.

Matariki holds a special place in Māori culture, as it is a time to honor ancestors, acknowledge the year gone by, and look forward to the future. The name Matariki is derived from the Māori words "mata" (eyes) and "riki" (small), symbolizing the watchful eyes of ancestors that guide and protect their descendants. This connection with ancestral guidance is a key aspect of Māori culture and values.

During Matariki, communities come together to share food and stories, and participate in traditional customs and activities. It is a time for whakapapa (genealogy), where Māori people remember and pay tribute to their ancestors, as well as a time for whanaungatanga (kinship), fostering connections with family and community members.

In recent years, the festival has gained prominence in New Zealand society, with events, workshops, and exhibitions held nationwide to celebrate Māori culture, heritage, and knowledge. Matariki is now seen as an opportunity to foster unity, cultural understanding, and environmental stewardship, highlighting the significance of Matariki to Māori culture and its influence on New Zealand as a whole.

The Matariki star cluster, also known as the Pleiades, is a group of stars located in the Taurus constellation. This cluster is visible from many parts of the world, including the Southern Hemisphere, where it plays a significant role in the Māori culture of New Zealand. The Pleiades consist of more than 800 stars, though only a few are visible to the naked eye. The star cluster is most visible in the pre-dawn sky during the Matariki festival, usually in late May or early June.

There are nine stars in Matariki that hold particular importance in Māori culture, each with its own name and meaning. These stars are believed to carry spiritual messages and insights, guiding the Māori people in their daily lives.


Puanga, also known as Rigel, is a bright star in the constellation of Orion. In Māori culture, it plays a similar role to Matariki, marking the beginning of the Māori New Year for some iwi in New Zealand. Puanga's visibility precedes the appearance of the Matariki star cluster in the pre-dawn sky, making it a more reliable indicator of the New Year for certain regions.

In areas where the Matariki star cluster is difficult to observe or not visible at all due to geographical and atmospheric conditions, the rising of Puanga is used instead to signify the beginning of the New Year celebrations. The customs, rituals, and significance associated with Puanga are similar to those of Matariki, with the emphasis on remembering ancestors, celebrating the harvest, and setting intentions for the year ahead.

Puanga is a reminder that different iwi have their own traditions and practices associated with the Māori New Year, reflecting the diversity and richness of Māori culture across New Zealand.

Not all iwi in Aotearoa celebrate Puanga, and the traditions and customs related to the Māori New Year can vary between different tribes. However, some iwi and regions that are known to celebrate Puanga include:

  1. Te Ātiawa: This iwi is located in the Taranaki and Wellington regions, and they observe Puanga as an important marker for the beginning of the New Year.
  2. Ngāti Ruanui: This Taranaki-based iwi also acknowledges Puanga as the harbinger of the Māori New Year.
  3. Ngā Rauru: Another Taranaki-based iwi, Ngā Rauru, places significance on the rising of Puanga for their New Year celebrations.
  4. Whanganui iwi: Some Whanganui iwi (tribes) in the Whanganui region observe Puanga to mark the beginning of the New Year.

Legend of Matariki: Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea

In Māori mythology, Tāwhirimātea is one of the children of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother). When his brothers decided to separate their parents to allow light to enter the world, Tāwhirimātea was the only sibling who opposed the plan. He was deeply upset by the separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku and felt that the act disrupted the balance of the natural world.

In his anger, Tāwhirimātea transformed himself into the various winds and set out to wreak havoc upon his siblings as revenge for their actions. He pursued them across the earth and oceans, challenging their domains and testing their resilience. Each sibling was forced to adapt to the onslaught and find a way to protect themselves and their realms.

This story has a connection to Matariki in several ways. Firstly, it highlights the role of Tāwhirimātea as the god of winds and the significance of the Matariki star Ururangi, which is associated with winds and the changing seasons. The story also emphasises the importance of balance and harmony in the natural world, a theme that resonates with the Matariki celebrations and their focus on environmental stewardship.

Furthermore, the pursuit of Tāwhirimātea's siblings symbolises the various challenges and adversities that people face in their lives. Matariki serves as a time for reflection on these challenges, honouring the resilience and strength displayed by the Māori people and their ancestors throughout history. The festival offers a chance to look back at the past year, acknowledging both its hardships and achievements, while also looking forward to the future with hope and determination.

Te ono o Matariki - Matariki and the Six Sisters

The Legend of Matariki and her Daughters is a beautiful narrative that illustrates the spiritual and cultural significance of the Matariki stars in Māori mythology. In this story, Matariki is depicted as a mother with eight daughters, each holding responsibility for different aspects of the natural world and human life. Together, they traverse the sky, sharing messages and providing guidance to the people of Aotearoa.

  1. Matariki (Alcyone) - The mother figure, Matariki represents hope, new beginnings, and reflection on the past year. She is a source of comfort and support, helping people to evaluate their lives and make positive changes for the future.
  2. Tupuānuku (Pleione) - Tupuānuku is associated with the growth and nourishment of plants and vegetables grown in the soil. She is a symbol of abundance, fertility, and the connection between humans and the earth.
  3. Tupuārangi (Merope) - This star is responsible for the growth and nourishment of fruits and berries that grow in trees. Tupuārangi signifies the connection between humans and the forest, highlighting the importance of maintaining balance within the natural world.
  4. Waitī (Electra) - Representing freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes, and streams, Waitī is a symbol of sustenance, purity, and the life-giving properties of water. She also signifies the creatures that inhabit freshwater environments and the role they play in the ecosystem.
  5. Waitā (Maia) - Waitā represents the ocean and the abundance of life it supports, emphasizing the importance of seafood as a source of sustenance for the Māori people. She also symbolizes the connection between humans and the vast marine world, highlighting the need for responsible stewardship of this vital resource.
  6. Waipunarangi (Taygeta) - This star is associated with the rain and the water cycle, representing replenishment, renewal, and the cleansing power of water. Waipunarangi highlights the interconnectedness of all living things and the essential role of water in sustaining life.
  7. Ururangi (Celaeno) - As the star connected to the winds and changing seasons, Ururangi serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life and the importance of adapting to change. She also represents the powerful forces of nature that can shape our lives and the environment.
  8. Pōhutukawa (Atlas) - Pōhutukawa is the star of remembrance, connecting the Māori people with their ancestors and the spiritual world. She helps to keep the memories of loved ones alive and fosters a deep sense of connection between the living and the deceased.
  9. Hiwa-i-te-Rangi (Sterope) - The wishing star, Hiwa-i-te-Rangi embodies the dreams and aspirations of the Māori people. She encourages individuals to set goals, pursue their dreams, and embrace the potential for growth and change.

In the Legend of Matariki and her Daughters, each star serves as a symbol of the values and principles that are central to Māori culture, such as unity, family, environmental stewardship, and the interconnectedness of all living things. The Matariki stars offer guidance and support, helping the Māori people navigate the challenges and opportunities of life, while fostering a deep connection to their ancestral roots and the natural world.

Historical Background of Matariki

The historical background of Matariki celebrations is rooted in ancient Polynesian culture, which spans thousands of years and encompasses a vast area of the Pacific Ocean. The indigenous Māori people of New Zealand, who arrived in Aotearoa more than 700 years ago, trace their ancestry back to Eastern Polynesia. Matariki's origins are intertwined with the early Polynesians' reliance on celestial bodies for navigation and timekeeping.

Matariki, or the Pleiades star cluster, has been observed and celebrated by many ancient cultures worldwide, including the Polynesians. In Polynesian society, the rise of Matariki was associated with the beginning of a new year, as it marked the end of the harvest season and the arrival of the colder winter months.

Polynesian people believed that during Matariki, the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds was at its thinnest, making it an ideal time to honour ancestors and seek their guidance. Consequently, communities would gather to celebrate and give thanks for the abundance provided by the land and sea, share knowledge, and strengthen relationships with one another.

As Polynesian people migrated throughout the Pacific, they carried their knowledge and customs with them, including the Matariki celebrations. In New Zealand, the Māori people adapted their Matariki festivities to suit their unique environment, incorporating elements specific to their new home.

For the early Polynesians, navigation was an essential skill that allowed them to traverse vast distances across the Pacific Ocean. Matariki, as well as other celestial bodies, played a crucial role in traditional navigation techniques.

The Pleiades star cluster was not only a celestial marker used to determine direction, but it also provided information about the time of year and changing seasons. The rising of Matariki in the pre-dawn sky indicated the beginning of the new year, signalling the end of the harvest season and the arrival of winter.

Polynesian navigators, known as tohunga waka or wayfinders, were highly respected for their expertise in celestial navigation. These expert navigators used the stars, along with other natural signs such as ocean currents, bird migrations, and cloud patterns, to guide their voyages across the Pacific.

Matariki's connection to traditional navigation highlights the deep historical and cultural significance it holds for the Māori people. The star cluster represents not only the new year but also their ancestral roots and the incredible voyaging traditions that brought them to Aotearoa, New Zealand. Matariki serves as a reminder of their connection to the land, sea, and sky and the importance of preserving and passing on this knowledge to future generations.

Traditional Māori customs and practices during Matariki

Matariki is a time of great significance for the Māori people, and various traditional customs and practices are observed during this period to honour the occasion.

  1. The Importance of Whakapapa (Genealogy) and Remembrance of Ancestors:

Whakapapa is a central aspect of Māori culture, as it connects individuals to their ancestors, the land, and their tribal identity. During Matariki, Māori communities gather to remember and pay tribute to their ancestors who have passed on, reflecting on the lives they led and the wisdom they shared. This is often done through storytelling, sharing memories, and visiting ancestral burial grounds (urupā) to clean and decorate the graves. The star Pōhutukawa, in particular, is associated with the remembrance of deceased loved ones.

  1. Traditional Activities:

Matariki is a time for celebration and coming together as a community. Various traditional activities are organised during this time, including:

  • Kite Flying: Kites hold spiritual significance in Māori culture, as they are believed to connect the heavens and the earth. Flying kites during Matariki symbolises the connection between the living and the deceased, as the kites soar high in the sky, close to the Matariki stars.
  • Waiata (Song): Music and singing are important aspects of Māori culture, and waiata plays a crucial role in Matariki celebrations. Traditional songs are performed to honour ancestors, express emotions, and share stories and knowledge.
  • Storytelling: Māori people have a strong oral tradition, and storytelling is an essential aspect of Matariki celebrations. Elders share stories about their ancestors, tribal history, and the Matariki stars, passing down valuable cultural knowledge and wisdom to younger generations.
  1. The Role of Food and Feasting in Matariki Celebrations:

Food plays a significant role in Matariki festivities, as it is a time to celebrate the harvest and give thanks for the abundance provided by the land and sea. Communities come together to share food and enjoy feasts, often featuring traditional Māori dishes such as hāngī (food cooked in an earth oven) and kai moana (seafood).

Feasting during Matariki serves several purposes. It allows people to honour the hard work of the previous year, acknowledge the bounty of the earth, and strengthen relationships within the community. Sharing food is also a way to remember deceased loved ones, as Māori people believe that sharing a meal connects the living with the spirits of their ancestors.

Through these traditional customs and practices, Matariki provides an opportunity for Māori communities to come together, strengthen their cultural identity, and celebrate their connection to the natural world and their ancestors.

Modern Matariki Celebrations

Modern Matariki celebrations have experienced a resurgence in recent years, with increasing interest and recognition of the festival's cultural significance in New Zealand society.

In April 2022, the Te Kāhui o Matariki Public Holiday Act 2022, also known as Te Ture mō te Hararei Tūmatanui o te Kāhui o Matariki 2022, came into effect. This dual language Act, published in both Te Reo Māori and English, established Te Rā Aro ki a Matariki or Matariki Observance Day as a public holiday. It marked the first public holiday to recognize Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) and the first new public holiday since Waitangi Day became a public holiday in 1974.

This revival has led to a wider understanding of Māori customs and traditions, as well as a greater emphasis on the values of community, reflection, and renewal.

  1. The Revival of Matariki Celebrations in Contemporary New Zealand Society:

In the past, the knowledge and observance of Matariki had diminished as a result of colonisation and the introduction of Western customs and calendars. However, the late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen a resurgence of interest in Matariki, with many New Zealanders embracing the festival as a unique and significant part of their national heritage.

This revival has been driven by a growing appreciation for Māori culture and traditions, as well as a desire to reconnect with the natural world and ancient wisdom. Matariki celebrations now take place across New Zealand, with events and activities that cater to people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

  1. The Significance of Matariki as a Time for Community, Reflection, and Renewal:

Matariki is an important time for reflection, both on a personal and community level. It provides an opportunity for individuals to assess their lives, set new goals, and embrace change. Matariki also encourages communities to come together, fostering unity, cooperation, and a sense of shared identity.

The celebration of Matariki also emphasises the importance of environmental stewardship, recognising the interconnectedness of all living things and the need to care for the land, water, and air. This aspect of Matariki resonates with contemporary concerns about sustainability and the environment, making the festival particularly relevant in today's world.

  1. Examples of Matariki Events and Activities Held Throughout New Zealand:

Matariki celebrations have become increasingly popular in New Zealand, with events and activities taking place throughout the country. Examples of modern Matariki events include:

  • Matariki festivals: Many towns and cities host Matariki festivals, featuring music, dance, art, and cultural performances, as well as workshops, talks, and exhibitions related to Māori culture and the environment.
  • Matariki Dawn Ceremonies: Some communities organise special dawn ceremonies to mark the rising of the Matariki stars. These ceremonies often include karakia (prayers), waiata (songs), and shared food.
  • Art exhibitions and installations: Matariki-themed art exhibitions and installations showcase the work of Māori artists and explore the cultural significance of the festival.
  • Educational events: Schools, museums, and libraries often hold special events and workshops during Matariki, focusing on Māori culture, history, and the environment.
  • Matariki-themed markets and fairs: Local markets and fairs often feature Matariki-themed products, food, and entertainment, providing an opportunity for communities to come together and support local businesses.

As Matariki celebrations continue to grow in popularity, they contribute to a greater understanding of and appreciation for Māori culture and values, strengthening the cultural identity of New Zealand and fostering a deeper connection to the natural world.

The 9 Whetū of Matariki


The mother of the constellation, Matariki is associated with health and wellbeing. It is considered a sign of good fortune or health for the upcoming year, and its brightness and position in the sky are believed to signal wellbeing, peace, and good luck.


This star represents the deceased and those who have passed away during the previous year. It connects Māori people to their ancestors and helps them honor the memory of lost loved ones during Matariki celebrations.


Associated with food grown in the ground, Tupuānuku signifies the end of the summer harvest and the approach of winter. It represents the earth's fertility and the importance of agriculture in Māori culture.


Linked to food from the sky, such as birds, Tupuārangi is connected to the traditional harvesting of birds and elevated foods like berries and fruits. It represents the importance of sustenance from the sky in Māori culture.


Symbolising fresh water and the living creatures found in rivers, streams, and lakes, Waitī is a reminder of the significance of freshwater resources in Māori culture and the need to protect them for future generations


The twin of Waitī, Waitā represents food gathered from the sea and the influence of tides and floodwaters. It highlights the importance of marine resources and the ocean in Māori culture.


Associated with rain, Waipuna-ā-rangi emphasises the importance of water as a life-sustaining resource and the interconnectedness of the natural world in Māori culture.


Connected to the wind, Ururangi was traditionally used to predict the nature of the wind for the year to come. It underscores the significance of understanding and adapting to the elements in Māori culture.


The final star, known as the wishing star, Hiwa-i-te-rangi is linked to the promise of a prosperous season. It encourages people to set their desires and dreams for the year, similar to modern-day New Year's resolutions, and serves as a symbol of hope and aspiration in Māori culture.