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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.


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,
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.

As Matariki transitions, we’ve started a new series celebrating younger members of our DOC whānau who are helping shape our future.

Kris Theiss is one very busy young woman. At 31, she works fulltime for DOC, volunteers, leads an active lifestyle, is completing a degree, and is happy mama to a super-energetic three-year-old, Oliver. “He is my motivation for everything I do,” she says.

Kris is the Delivery Manager for Jobs for Nature, based in Rotorua. She supports 15 projects around Rotorua and in the western Bay of Plenty, most of which involve working alongside whānau, hapū and iwi partners. It’s complex but rewarding work.

“I love seeing the difference that Jobs for Nature and our partnerships are having on the ground,” she explains. “It’s not just the conservation outputs, which are fantastic and important, but the positive impacts on our partners. This mahi is making a difference in their lives. It’s helping them achieve their aspirations and I’m genuinely excited to be part of that.”

Kris loves the people she works with, both in DOC and outside of DOC.

“I am surrounded by genuinely good, positive people that inspire me regularly.”

She learns a lot from the people around her.

“Everyone you ever meet knows something you don’t know, so it’s important to listen, learn and be respectful.”

On top of her day job, Kris is also a National PSA delegate and the local health and safety representative. She was in the Aspiring Leaders Programme 2021.

Kris is passionate about conservation and te taiao

Australian Kris moved from Sydney to Rotorua in 2013, where she lives with her partner Darrel, son Oliver and rottweiler Letty. She is passionate about te taiao, sustainability and conservation, and tries to incorporate these into her life habits. She enjoys the outdoors and is always up for a new experience. “I’ll try anything – from caving to bungee jumping to walking the Tongariro Crossing to travelling around the South Island in a campervan.”

Kris loves learning. She has completed online courses in te reo and tikanga through Te Wananga o Raukawa and is studying for a Bachelor of Business (Leadership and Management) at Open Polytechnic – Te Pukenga.

She also volunteers through the Graeme Dingle Foundation as a Career Navigator at a local high school. “I appreciate the opportunity to give back to the community and support others through my experiences. It’s very rewarding to work with rangatahi,” she says.

Kris with son Oliver, an energetic three-year-old
Kris organised and supported a Jobs for Nature visit from the Prime Minister

Do what makes you happy, Kris says

Kris’s philosophy in life is to do what makes you happy. She wants to make a positive difference to others and to te taiao.

“I want my son to be proud of me. I want to inspire him and others to go for whatever they want.”

She shares with us her favourite whakataukī:

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei

Aim for the highest cloud so that if you miss it, you will hit a lofty mountain.

Celebrating DOC’s 35th anniversary

Kris’s story is the first in a new series to mark DOC’s 35th anniversary year. Over the next few weeks we will be celebrating some of the younger people who work at DOC and are helping shape the future of conservation in Aotearoa .