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, an indigenous studies and Māori cultural astronomy academic of Tūhoe descent. Matariki is the Māori New Year in Te Ao Māori, or the Māori world view, and is signified by the reappearance of the Matariki star cluster in the early morning sky.
English speakers may know the star cluster better by its ancient Greek name of the Pleiades, while Subaru drivers will recognize it from the logo on their car. But for Māori people in New Zealand, seeing these stars reappear in the Southern hemisphere’s mid-winter means the past year is coming to a close, and the new one is beginning. Historically, Matariki has been intertwined with harvesting and hunting, with clear stars indicating an abundant season.
But there is deeper cultural meaning beyond the changing season. “One of the stars in the cluster is Ururangi, and is directly connected to the winds,” Dr. Matamua says. “We have a saying: ‘e hoki ki ō maunga kia purea ai e ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea,’ which means ‘return to your homelands and let your spirit be cleansed by the winds of your home.’” At Matariki, you become cleansed and healed, revived and regenerated. “All the stuff that you carry with you, wherever you are in the world, you take that home and it gets blown away.”
New Zealand officially recognized Matariki as a public holiday in April 2022, though it has long been celebrated by Māori people. “This year, we will celebrate a holiday 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,” Dr. Matamua says. He adds that all people on the planet descend 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 therein creates unity. “In that moment we come together as one people and rise in the sky.”
The heart of the celebrations include principles of remembrance, celebrating the present, and looking to the future, with Mātauranga Māori, or ancestral knowledge and wisdom, at the center of everything.
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 this time of year, making stargazing all that more spectacular.
Travelers interested in taking in the night sky can set their sights on these hotels and stargazing experiences around the country.
Rahimoana – Eagles Nest, Russell
Floor to ceiling glass windows and 300-degree views makes Rahimoana an excellent perfect spot to experience the night sky without even getting out of bed.
See the whole sky from a geodesic dome only five minutes from the Waitomo Caves and their famous glowworms.
Owhaoko – Taupo
Owhaoko is 6,950 hectares of mountainous terrain accessible only by helicopter, and held in a trust for descendents of the original Māori people that traveled in the area. This is a place to see the full majesty of the night sky.
Night Sky Cottage – Ruapehu
Five stars and zero waste, the Nightsky Cottage is ideal for stargazing. Guests can even opt to sleep under the stars by a log fire.
PurePods – Multiple locations
These private, glass eco-cabins are designed to give you a front row seat in nature’s show. See the unobscured night sky throughout the country.
Good Heavens – Great Barrier Island
Great Barrier Island is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and as one of only five Dark Sky Sanctuaries and the first island sanctuary in the world, this is one of the best places to stargaze on earth.
Tekapo Springs Star Gazing – Takapō (Tekapo)
Tekapo Stargazing is the only guided hot pools and stargazing experience in New Zealand. It’s situated inside the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest reserve of this type in the world.
Stewart Island Lodge – Stewart Island.
As a certified Dark Sky Sanctuary, this is another excellent spot for stargazing. Because it’s at the far southern end of New Zealand, there is even more to see in the sky here.
New Zealand Tourism has also collected a detailed list of events, places, and information for travelers who wish to celebrate the Māori New Year.