This year, Aotearoa New Zealand is celebrating what may be the world’s first reintroduced indigenous festival, according to Dr Rangi Matamua, an indigenous studies and cultural astronomy scholar of Tūhoe origin. Matariki is the Maori New Year in Te Ao Māori, or the Maori worldview, and is signified by the reappearance of the Matariki star cluster in the early morning sky.
English speakers may know the star cluster best by its ancient Greek name of the Pleiades, while Subaru drivers will recognize it by the logo on their car. But for New Zealand Maori, seeing these stars reappear in mid-winter in the southern hemisphere means the past year is coming to an end and the new is beginning. Historically, Matariki has been closely linked to harvesting and hunting, with clear stars indicating a bountiful season.
But there is a deeper cultural meaning beyond the change of seasons. “One of the stars in the cluster is Ururangi and is directly connected to the winds,” says Dr Matamua. “We have a saying: ‘e hoki ki ō maunga kia purea ai e ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea’, which means ‘return to your native lands and let your mind be purified by the winds of your home.'” In Matariki, you become purified and healed, revived and regenerated. “Everything you take with you, wherever you are in the world, you bring home and it’s blown away.”
New Zealand officially recognized Matariki as a public holiday in April 2022, although it has long been celebrated by Maori. “This year we will celebrate a holiday based on an indigenous knowledge system that is shared with the whole country and the world, as a way to help us reaffirm and enrich our national identity,” said Dr Matamua. He adds that everyone on the planet is descended from people who used stars to tell the time, or to navigate, or to know when to hunt and harvest, and when Matariki appears, the celebration creates unity there. “At that time, we come together as one people and ascend into heaven. »
The core of the celebrations includes the principles of remembrance, celebrating the present and looking to the future, with Mātauranga Māori, or ancestral knowledge and wisdom, at the center of it all.
The Matariki star cluster is relatively close to Earth, making it visible to the naked eye, especially in New Zealand with its many dark sky sanctuaries and low light pollution. The Aurora Australis, or Aurora Australis, are also visible at this time of year, making stargazing all the more spectacular.
Travelers interested in the night sky can set their sights on these hotels and stargazing experiences across the country.
Rahimoana – Eagle’s Nest, Russell
Floor-to-ceiling glass windows and 300-degree views make Rahimoana an excellent spot perfect for experiencing the night sky without even getting out of bed.
Wai Dome O – Waitomo District and Canopy Campground
Take in the whole sky from a geodesic dome just five minutes from the Waitomo Caves and their famous glowworms.
Owhaoko is 6,950 hectares of mountainous land accessible only by helicopter and held in trust for the descendants of the original Maori people who traveled to the area. This is a place to see the full majesty of the night sky.
Night Sky Chalet – Ruapehu
Five stars and zero waste, the Nightsky Cottage is ideal for stargazing. You can even choose to sleep under the stars near a wood fire.
PurePods – Multiple Slots
These private eco-friendly glass cabins are designed to give you a front row seat in nature’s spectacle. Admire the clear night skies across the country.
Good Heavens – Great Barrier Island
Great Barrier Island is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary and, as one of five Dark Sky Sanctuaries and the first island sanctuary in the world, it is one of the best places for stargazing on earth.
Stargazing at Tekapo Springs – Takapō (Tekapo)
Tekapo Stargazing is New Zealand’s only guided hot pool and stargazing experience. It is located inside the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Preserve – the largest such reserve in the world.
Stewart Island Lodge – Stewart Island.
As a certified Dark Sky Sanctuary, this is another great place for stargazing. Because it’s in the far south of New Zealand, there’s even more to see in the sky here.
New Zealand Tourism has also put together a detailed list of events, places and information for travelers wishing to celebrate the Maori New Year.