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Marking Matariki

July 10, 2020

Each year in the middle of winter, something magical happens.

The Matariki star cluster rises from the 21st June and becomes visible just before the sun wakes from its slumber. This special moment signifies Māori New Year.


According to Maramataka Māori lunar calendar, the presence of Matariki in the pre-dawn sky signals the beginning of a new lunar year. As Matariki rises, Aotearoa celebrates the end of the previous lunar year and the beginning of a new one.

Traditionally, Matariki marks a moment in time where the autumn harvest was complete and the pātaka storehouses were full. This left free time for relaxation, family, and leisure. Which explains why Matariki is a time for coming together for renewal and celebration.

Matariki was once celebrated with the lighting of ritual fires, sacred offerings, and celebrations to farewell those who have passed on, honour ancestors and celebrate life. Today, people across New Zealand come together to mark this special time and remember their ancestors through story, the sharing of food, singing, and playing music.

Whānau family gathers to mark the occasion each year. Cold nights are spent celebrating, learning, and entertaining each other. Whare tapere entertainment traditionally included tākaro games and haka dance. These remain important parts of Matariki celebrations today.

Tohunga spiritual experts looked to Matariki as a guide for how abundant the coming year’s harvest would be. If the Matariki star cluster features bright, clear stars then the season ahead would be warm and successful. On the other hand, hazy stars were a sign of cooler weather and poor-quality crops. In this way, Matariki acts as a reminder of the cycle of life and natural methods for marking the passing of time.

Ka puta Matariki ka rere Whānui.
Ko te tohu tēnā o te tau e!
Matariki reappears, Vega starts its flight.
The new year begins!

The Matariki Legend

While many legends surround Matariki, one of the most popular is that of Matariki, the whaea mother, and her six daughters Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipunarangi, Waitī and Waitā, and Ururangi.

Each year Matariki and her daughters make the journey across the sky to visit Papatūānuku Mother Earth, their tupuna wahine great grandmother. Each daughter, or star, has a unique set of gifts that she uses to help Papatūānuku prepare for the year to come. During this time they also gain new knowledge which they protect and pass on to others.

Matariki watches over her tamariki children and helping where needed. She reminds us that with encouragement and support we can achieve our very best.

Tupu-ā-nuku makes sure that the plants have everything they need to grow so they can produce kai food, rongoā medicine, and kākahu fabrics. Each year she reminds us to spend time growing our pūkenga strengths and help others grow their pūkenga as well.

Tupu-ā-rangi has a beautiful singing voice which revives the forest. She sings for te wao nui the great forests and all the creatures. She learns the songs of the creatures and reminds us to share our gifts with others and appreciate those shared with us.

Waipunarangi prepares the children of Tangaroa god of the sea to produce food. She watches how the water evaporates with the heat of the sun then rains again from the clouds for the people, animals, and plants. She reminds us that the kindness we give to others come back to us.

Waitī and Waitā, Matariki’s twins, work together as a team to care for the smallest creatures. Ngā pī bees pollinate flowers to help the plants grow and produce food and oxygen for us to eat and breathe. The twins remind us to work together.

Ururangi is a ball of energy. She races her sisters to Papatūānuku’s lap for a hug and her favourite stories. Her excitement and love lifts Papatūānuku’s spirits and gives her the motivation needed to prepare for the coming year. Ururangi reminds us that a good attitude is important for success.

Together, Papatūānuku, Matariki, and Matariki’s six daughters teach us that the more we give to our environment and each other, the more we receive in return.


This video tells the Matariki story of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira iwi as told by kaumātua elder Te Waari Carkeek. The story has been retold for young ones and is a great way to share Matariki with the kids and grandchildren. The video features beautiful time-lapse photography showcasing places in the Wellington region that are significant to Ngāti Toa, such as Tararua Ranges, Mana Island, and Te-Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Māui Wellington Harbour. As you watch the video, take special note of the accompanying sounds of taonga puoro Māori musical instruments behind the narration.


Matariki feasting is all about wintry comfort food from the past. People gather to enjoy hangi, freshly caught fish, and the fruits of the harvest. Lamb and pork feature strongly in a typical modern hangi but traditional ingredients also feature like shellfish, seafood, vegetables, and healing herbs gathered from the bush.

Try your hand at cooking with traditional Māori vegetables like Kūmara, Taewa Māori potatoes, Kamo Kamo, Taro, Puha, and Uwhi yam.

Masterchef 2014 winners Karena and Kasey Bird reside in beautiful Maketū, Bay of Plenty. With a passion for storytelling through food, these two sisters are at the forefront of innovative food experiences in New Zealand. Here’s one of their recipes.

Mussel fritters
Serves 4

400g mussel meat, chopped
1 bunch coriander, chopped
3cm ginger, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 free-range egg
½ cup milk
⅓ cup flour
1 red chilli, chopped
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

To cook
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
To serve
1 sprinkle chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1 sprinkle coriander, chopped
1 drizzle aioli

1. Place all the fritter ingredients into a large bowl and mix until completely combined.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large non-stick frypan over medium heat. Place tablespoons of the fritter mixture into the pan, trying to not let them touch each other.
3. Cook in batches for about 1 minute on each side. Serve with aioli, coriander, and optional chilli.
Section 4

Follow these links to learn more about Matariki and how you can join in the celebration.


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