This year, Aotearoa New Zealand is celebrating what may be the world’s first reintroduced indigenous holiday anywhere in the world, according to Dr. Rangi Matamua, a scholar of indigenous studies and Māori cultural astronomy of Tūhoe descent. Matariki is the Maori New Year in Te Ao Māori, or the Maori worldview, and is represented by the reappearance of the Matariki star cluster in the morning sky.
English speakers may know the star cluster better by its ancient Greek name of the Pleiades, while Subaru drivers will recognize it by the logo on their car. But for the Maori of New Zealand, seeing these stars reappear in mid-winter in the southern hemisphere means that the past year is coming to an end and the new one is beginning. Matariki has historically been intertwined with gathering and hunting, with clear stars indicating a bountiful season.
But there is a deeper cultural meaning beyond the change of season. “One of the stars in the cluster is Ururangi and it 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 ‘go back to your native land and let the winds of your home cleanse your spirit.’” In Matariki, you are cleansed and healed, revived and regenerated. “All the things you take with you, wherever you are in the world, you take them home and the wind blows them away.”
New Zealand officially recognized Matariki as a public holiday in April 2022, although Maori have long celebrated it. “This year we will celebrate a festival based on an indigenous knowledge system that is being shared with the entire country and the world, as a way to help us reaffirm and enrich our national identity,” says Dr. Matamua. He adds that all people on the planet are descended from people who have used stars to tell time, or to navigate, or to know when to hunt and harvest, and when Matariki appears, the celebration creates unity. “At that time we came together as one people and rose to heaven.”
The heart of the celebrations includes principles of remembrance, celebration of the present and looking to the future, with Mātauranga Māori, or ancient 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 southern lights, are also visible at this time of year, making stargazing even more spectacular.
Travelers interested in gazing at the night sky can set their sights on these hotels and stargazing experiences across the country.
Rahimoana – Eagles Nest, Russell
Floor-to-ceiling glass windows and 300-degree views make Rahimoana a great spot perfect for experiencing the night sky without even getting out of bed.
Wai Dome O – Waitomo District and Canopy Camping
See the entire sky from a geodesic dome just five minutes from Waitomo Caves and its famous glow worms.
Owhaoko is 6,950 hectares of mountainous terrain accessible only by helicopter and held in trust for the descendants of the original Maori who traveled through the area. This is a place to see all the majesty of the night sky.
Night Sky Cabin – Ruapehu
Five stars and zero waste, Nightsky Cottage is ideal for stargazing. Guests can even choose to sleep under the stars by a fireplace.
PurePods – Multiple Locations
These private glass eco-cabins are designed to give you a front row seat to nature’s spectacle. See the clear night sky across the country.
Good Sky – Great Barrier Island
Great Barrier Island is an international dark sky sanctuary and as one of only five dark sky sanctuaries and the world’s first island sanctuary, this is one of the best stargazing spots on earth.
Stargazing at Tekapo Springs – Takapō (Tekapo)
Tekapo Stargazing is New Zealand’s only guided thermal pool and stargazing experience. It is situated within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest reserve of its kind in the world.
Stewart Island Lodge – Stewart Island.
As a certified Dark Sky Sanctuary, this is another great spot for stargazing. Because it’s in the far south of New Zealand, there’s even more to see in the sky here.
Tourism New Zealand has also compiled a detailed list of events, venues and information for travelers looking to celebrate the Maori New Year.