Celebrating Matariki

Celebrating Matariki

What’s on around the motu?

Rising in mid-winter, the cluster of stars known as Matariki represents a time of solemn reflection followed by a celebration of the present and a looking ahead to the future. We’re excited about this important new national holiday - and here’s a round-up of how people are celebrating around Aotearoa. 

While there are common themes around Matariki celebrations there are varying ways in which hapu and iwi celebrate. So it is really up to you.

Traditionally the rise of the Matariki cluster signals the start of the new year for Māori - which can mean fun and feasting but also a time to remember tīpuna (ancestors) and loved ones who have passed. Being in winter, Matariki goes hand-in-hand with bonfires (check fire restrictions in your area first!) as well as hot chocolates, mulled wine and plenty of hearty comfort food.

Like any new year, it is also a time to get together with family and friends and to raise a glass or light a candle for those who have passed away in the previous year. Many believe that Matariki is when those spirits are released and become part of the galaxy above.

Another great way to acknowledge this time of year is to get out in the garden and plan ahead for the fertile times to come. The Māori lunar calendar has recommendations for seed saving, tree maintenance and pruning at Matariki time.

This could also be a good time to pay attention to the birdlife in your garden and make sure you’re well stocked to keep them nourished over the cooler months.
Matariki celebrations have been occurring for centuries. But for many New Zealanders, the arrival of the new public holiday could mean this is your first time celebrating. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out our highlights to see what’s happening in your area.

City glow

All the main centres are coming to the party this year, with festivals happening in every city. If you’re in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland there are more than 80 events on the menu, from a family friendly Kite Day, to food, workshops and concerts held in Britomart and Commercial Bay, and a spectacular light show on the Harbour Bridge for all to see.

For those in Kirikiriroa Hamilton and their neighbours, the Matariki Ki Waikato Festival takes place for a whole month from June 17, with a huge variety of events happening across the Waikato area. Some highlights include a self-guided Star Walk trail, a traditional Maori healing hub, and a glow-in-the-dark puppet show! 
Residents in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington should head to the waterfront from 23-26 June for Matariki ki Pōneke. With light shows on offer, fireworks over the harbour and a special Ahi Kā experience - which includes fire and storytelling - this should be a capital time for all. 

Mainlanders in Ōtautahi Christchurch are in luck with Tirama Mai, a 10-day festival of lights. Follow the trail of installation and projections through the city, including an illuminated tunnel linking Cathedral Square and the Te Pae Convention Centre, for an amazing after-dark experience. 

For Ōtepoti Dunedin folk, the Otago Harbour waterfront will be a stunner with a water and light show held from June 24 to 26 as part of Puaka Matariki Festival, which will include an array of cultural, food and creative events across the city.

Coastal vibes

Matariki celebrations are nothing new in the winterless North / Te Tai Tokerau, but this year the Bay of Islands has stepped things up with Pēwhairangi Matariki Festival. Running from June 17 to July 31, there are ticketed events, such as carving and astrophotography workshops, as well as free kapa haka shows, street food, and a fireworks display. 

In the ultimate of silver linings, while Ngāmotu New Plymouth’s wonderful Festival of Lights was cancelled this summer it is now coming back with a bang for Matariki. For the first time, an illuminated walkway will link the CBD and the coast, and revellers will enjoy four nights of entertainment, food and fun.

Tauranga has gone for a theme, Tupuārangi: Heavenly Treasures and their festival includes a Star Hunt at the Tauranga Art Gallery, traditional craft workshops and a focus on the garden - with a massive seed swap and an introduction to the Maori lunar planting calendar. 

Southern lights

Southerners are in luck with the inaugural Matariki Mackenzie festival being held at Lake Tekapo, the home of Dark Sky country. Special events will be held at the observatory and by the lakeside, as well as markets, guided walks and traditional cooking demonstrations. 

The annual Matariki Arrowtown Lights will be held from 24-26 June and they’re stepping it up a notch this year, with light displays and projections down the cobbled main street as well as an informative star-gazing session with renowned astrophysicist Brian Boyle.

No matter where you are in the motu there is bound to be a local event to help you celebrate the stars and the beautiful planet we live on. And even if there isn’t, Matariki is a great opportunity to wrap up warm, join with friends and family and experience the wonders of our night sky.