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With all eyes on the stars, what are people looking at and why? Let’s introduce Ngā Whetū O Matariki, the stars of Matariki.

📷: Fraser Gunn 

Ko Matariki kei runga, ko te tohu tēnā o te tau!
Matariki is up; that’s the sign of the year!

The pre-dawn rising of Matariki, the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades, marks for many Māori the arrival of The New Year.

Matariki is a time to slow down and reflect, come together with family and friends, to feast and remember our loved ones who have passed. It is also a time to plan, look forward to the future, and, most importantly, connect with nature.

Traditionally tohunga would look to the stars and use Matariki as an indicator to predict things such as the upcoming year’s harvest and weather. For example, if Tupuānuku was shining bright, this could indicate a plentiful harvest of kumara or crops from the māra kai (food gardens) in the upcoming season, but if Waipunarangi was difficult to see and hazy a wet and rainy season was to be expected.

Te Iwa o Matariki, the nine stars of Matariki, are each intrinsically connected to the natural world around us:

Matariki is the star that signifies reflection, hope, our connection to the environment and the gathering of people.

Matariki is also the Mother of the other stars in the cluster.

Pōhutukawa is the star connected with the dead, particularly those who have passed since the last rising of Matariki.

Tupuānuku is the star connected with food that grows in or on the ground. ‘Tupu’ means to grow, whilst ‘nuku’ is short for ‘Papatuanuku,’ meaning earth. When Matariki sets in May, the food stores are full from the harvest, ready for winter.

Tupuārangi is the star connected with food from above or in the sky. During the rising of Matariki, kererū are at their fattest. Traditionally they were harvested, cooked, preserved and stored as another food source.

Waitī is the star connected to fresh water and the creatures that live in our rivers, lakes and streams. The rising of Matariki signals the migration of the korokoro or lamprey. This eel-like creature held special significance to Māori as another essential food source.

Waitā is the star connected to the ocean and the many foods gathered from the sea. Waitā is also closely linked to the tides and floodwaters.

Waipunarangi is the star connected to the rain, and its name means “water that pools in the sky.”

Ururangi is the star connected to winds, and its name means “the winds of the sky.”

Hiwa-i-te-rangi is the star connected to the promise of a prosperous season. It is also known as the wishing star and would be used to set intentions with people sending Hiwa-i-te-rangi their hopes and dreams for the year ahead.

Read more on Matariki here.

The best time to view the rise of Matariki this year is between 21st June and 29th June before sunrise. Watch below for tips on spotting Matariki by using identifiable stars as markers.

Matariki: The Māori New Year

 —  19/06/2021

By Joe Harawira, Pouwhakahaere

When Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the Earth mother, were separated by their children, the God of the winds—Tāwhirimātea—became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

For Māori, the rising of these stars (called Matariki – ‘the eyes of God’), is celebrated by giving gratitude to Papatūānuku, practicing whakawhanaungatanga (establishing relationships and connections with others) and valuing manaakitanga (hospitality and kindness).

Matariki in the night sky

Known as the Māori New Year, Matariki is also a time to give respect to the unique land we live on; a time of growth, to plant new trees and crops; to gather with whānau and friends and to reflect on what has been and what is yet to come. A time of new beginnings.

Traditionally, the success of the following season’s crops would be determined by Matariki. The brighter the stars, the warmer the season and the more plentiful the crops would be.

The flying of kites at a Matariki celebration. Photo: Chris Gin | CC BY NC-ND 2.0.
The flying of kites at a Matariki celebration

“In days gone by, Māori used the concept of manaaki (care) of the natural resources to survive,” says DOC’s Pouwhakahaere Joe Harawira.

“For Māori, sustainability of resources was crucial to our survival. Our people had to adapt to the sometimes harsh and inhospitable conditions that were encountered upon arrival to Aotearoa. This was the time where they learned how to live, to breathe, to know and to understand how to live with the environment; how to co-exist. They wore the mantle of the land with dignity and respect, hearkened to the ways of nature, appreciated the elements, and speculated the cosmos. Therefore, the environment and its care are at the forefront of the celebrations around Matariki”.

To get in on the action and celebrate this time of new beginnings, bring friends and family along to one of the many events around the country. Eventfinda has a good list to choose from, and the Matariki Festival website has ideas for how you can celebrate.


Star-gazing

Matariki is a set of nine stars that appears in New Zealand’s sky in the shortest days of the year marking the beginning of traditional Māori New Year celebration, which takes place in June or July at the same time with the rise of the new moon.

So, set the alarm for around 5.30am, wrap up warmly and drag yourself outside. The best time to see Matariki is about half an hour before dawn.

1. Find the pot (the bottom three stars of the pot are called tautoru, or Orion’s Belt).

2. To the left of the pot, find the bright orange star, Taumata-kuku (Alderbaran).

3. Keep going left from Taumata-kuku until you find a cluster of stars. That is Matariki. You may be able to see the individual stars among the cluster, but if it’s a bit fuzzy, look just below or above it and they will appear clearer.

4. Get comfy and spend a few moments reflecting on the year that was and the year to come.

Find more tips and advice for star-gazing on our website.

Matariki signals change—preparation and making plans to take action. We appreciate our whenua (land) and celebrate the diversity of life. We learn about who came before us, our history and our heritage. Not only do we acknowledge what we have, we acknowledge what we have to give.

Pre-dawn sky. Image courtesy of irkstyle, flickr.com.
The best time to see Matariki is about half an hour before dawn.

Find out more about Matariki: The Māori New Year on the Te Papa website or on the Matariki Festival page.

By Hannah Hendriks, Marine Species Support Officer.

Winter was an exciting time for whale watchers in Wellington, and a busy time for DOC. Over the winter months we were treated to two exciting encounters of the whale kind in Wellington Harbour.

Early in July, the harbour was visited by a lone southern right whale, probably a sub-adult. He was affectionately named ‘Matariki’ by the public, as his visit coincided with the Māori new year celebrations.

IMG_6095

The Wellington whale was known for his acrobatics – breaching, tail slapping, and spy hopping. 📷: Freya Hjorvarsdottir

Matariki really liked to put on a show! Onlookers were delighted by the numerous breaches, slaps, and lobs that were on display over the nine days he spent in the harbour, and further three days on Wellington’s south coast.

Wellingtonians were so enamoured with Matariki that he had his own Facebook page, a kids colouring competition (127 entries), merchandise, and inspired plenty of memes. The whole city got on board.

‘Matariki the Wellington Whale’ facebook page ran a colouring competition that received 127 entries. The winning entry is shown top right.

‘Matariki the Wellington Whale’ facebook page ran a colouring competition that received 127 entries. The winning entry is shown top right.

Then we had the matter of the fireworks. I’m sure this was the first time DOC had to consult on a fireworks show due to a whale, and we made international news. Consulting with a New Zealand whale researcher, we formed our advice that the noise from the fireworks display would be unlikely to harm the whale, but it could cause it to react unexpectedly, and the increased vessel traffic in the harbour could pose a risk to the whale and observers alike. In the end it was the council’s decision, and they chose to postpone (see our full advice to Wellington City Council).

Hitching a ride on a NIWA research boat, DOC ranger Colin Giddy was able to collect a small skin sample, a biopsy, from the whale which allowed researchers from the University of Auckland to determine that it was male. This sample will add to the 750 sample strong catalogue of southern right whale DNA from New Zealand and contribute to research by Emma Carroll under a Royal Society Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

whale_research boat

Researchers from NIWA and DOC got a bit of a surprise from the curious whale while out collecting a biopsy sample. Reminder: If you don’t have a permit, you must keep 50m from whales and swimming is prohibited. 📷: Karl Halvorsen.

The city again came to a brief standstill a few weeks later when a mother and calf southern right whale came into the harbour for a day or so. This was potentially the first record of an endangered southern right whale bringing a calf into the harbour since being decimated by whaling. Another mother and calf pair were sighted along the Kapiti coast at the same time. Neither pair stuck around long but they incited hope in us that southern right whales are recovering well from over a century of whaling activity and starting to return to old haunts. Maybe one day we will see breeding in Wellington Harbour again.

Southern right whale mother and calf seen in Wellington Harbour in August. Note photo was taken in breach of Marine Mammals Protection Regulations –drones cannot be flown closer than 150m from any marine mammal without a permit.

Southern right whale mother and calf seen in Wellington Harbour in August. Note: photo was taken in breach of Marine Mammals Protection Regulations –drones cannot be flown closer than 150m from any marine mammal without a permit. 📷: Dwight Lorenzen

The Kapiti/Wellington district office implemented a Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS) to manage the response. We were able to join forces with the Police, Maritime NZ, Harbourmaster, Wellington City Council and NIWA to monitor the animal and water users, and provide educational material about the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations. We’d like to thank all who were involved, as it truly took a team effort to ensure this taonga was safe for all to enjoy.