Every year in the middle of winter, the Matariki star cluster rises, ushering in the Māori New Year. It represents a time to gather with whānau and friends, reflect on the past, honour the present and look forward to the future.
Matariki is also known as the Pleiades star cluster and can be identified by the seven star ‘sisters’. This years marks the first official public holiday for Matariki, a historical moment in Aotearoa.
“This year’s celebrations are significant because we believe this to be the first re-introduced indigenous holiday anywhere in the world,” says Maori astronomy expert Dr. Rangi Mātāmua. “All other (New Zealand) celebrations have essentially been imported, but this is unique and special to who we are in the world and where we are today.”
For people around Aotearoa wondering how to find the Matariki star cluster, there are a number of opportunities up and down the country.
The best time to see Matariki
Rising from 21 June for about eight days, Matariki can be seen from the naked eye, but certain times and locations factor in to its visibility. The early hours of the morning before the sun rises is the best times to look for Matariki.
According to NIWA, those in the North Island and eastern South Island will find the best views of Matariki on Friday and Saturday mornings.
Where is Matariki in the sky?
You can spot Matariki by looking at the recognisable star groups, such as the Southern Cross (Te Punga) and Orion’s Belt (Tautoru). See below a helpful diagram of where to find Matariki in the sky.
The best places to see Matariki
Aotearoa is fantastic for stargazing as there are many places around the country with low light pollution. Those in the main cities can drive out to the countryside, or if you’re lucky enough, head to one of the country’s Dark Sky Sanctuaries.
Aotea (Great Barrier Island)
About a thirty minute flight from Auckland is Aotea, Great Barrier Island, one of only five Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world. You can find fantastic stargazing opportunities from about anywhere on the island, ranging from forested hills to sandy beaches. The guides from Good Heavens offer wonderful stargazing tours, sharing their expert knowledge of the night sky.
The Ātea a Rangi, Waitangi Regional Park, Hawke’s Bay
Ātea a Rangi is a celestial star compass located in Waitangi Regional Park in the Hawke’s Bay. It is used to teach traditional Māori navigation methods and tell stories of those who navigated the oceans to arrive and settle here in Aotearoa. Visitors can join a tour with the Ātea a Rangi Educational Trust to learn more about the site.
The beautiful wine region of Martinborough is hoping to be the next Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand, already having achieved ‘3K City’ classification which means it has reduced sky glow and light pollution. Head to Castlepoint to see the night sky, watching the Milky Way rise above the historical lighthouse.
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in the South Island is no doubt one of the best places to stargaze in New Zealand. Its the first reserve to be awarded gold status due to having nearly non-existent light, making this place a truly breathtaking spot to see Matariki and other constellations.
Otago Peninsula, Dunedin
From Dunedin you can not only see Matariki, but under the right conditions, be able to witness the dazzling Aurora Australia, Southern Lights. Horizon Tours offer unique stargazing experiences from a Māori perspective, where you can learn about Māori creation myths and how ancestors navigated the ocean using the night sky.
Rakiura (Stewart Island) is another Dark Sky Sanctuary and one of the best places to see the Aurora Australis, Milky Way and Matariki. Because of its location far south, stargazers on Rakiura have the special opportunity to see celestial features that can be seen anywhere else in the country. Rakiura National Park, home to one of the country’s Great Walks, is a perfect location to spot shooting stars and constellations.