The rise of the Matariki star cluster in the heavens over New Zealand signals the start of the month-long celebrations for Māori New Year, across the country, from May through to June.
This time of festivity offers both Kiwis and visitors a chance to celebrate the culture and customs of New Zealand’s rich indigenous heritage and its Māori People. Many of these activities make the most of the stunning landscapes, fresh air and the country’s very own organic produce.
Matarikiis the Māori name for the group of stars also known as the Pleiades star cluster or The Seven Sisters. In ancient Māori times,Matariki indicated the fortunes of the harvest season – the brighter The Seven Sisters, the warmer the season and the better the quality of the crops.
The pre-dawn rise of Matariki can be seen in the last days of May and Māori New Year celebrations start at the sighting of the next new moon, estimated for June 18 this year.
The two most celebrated festivals include the Matariki Festival in Auckland,where the city comes alive with Kapa Haka – Māori performing arts toform a line (kapa) and dance (haka); family events and art. The Puaka Matariki Festival in Dunedin where a midwinter carnival begins with lantern parades, contemporary dance, storytelling and the annual rowing event Waka Ama: Whānau Have A Go Sessions offer opportunities for participants as young as 8-years and upwards, to get involved.
Visitors to the North Island should make a special trip to Northland and Rotorua to experience original and rich culture of Māori history, tradition, food and art.
Begin your journey at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the site of the signing of New Zealand’s first Treaty between Māori leaders and European settlers. The Treaty House and Ngatokimatawharorua, a huge carved war canoe (waka taua), are just a few of the must-sees.
Waitangi cultural performance group ‘Te Pitowhenua’ will provide guests an introduction to Māori culture, welcoming visitors with waiata(songs), poi, stick games, Māori weapon displays and the famous haka (war dances).
Take a slow walk through Northland’s ancient Waipoua forest where guides narrate and navigate through native flora and fauna, also sharing the legendary stories of the land and bringing the unique environment to life.
The best of Māori culture is found in the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua. Known as the hub of ‘Māoridom’ and famous for its natural hot springs, shooting geysers and bubbling mud pools, the spirit of Manaakitanga (hospitality) is alive among the Māori people here.
Home to some of the best contemporary Māori artists in the country, visitors can have a Māori tattoo designed, or take home a stunning piece of artwork or clothing with a distinctively Māori design.
At Whakarewarewa, visitors can see how early Māori people used the geothermal waters to cook, bathe and wash their clothes, with the added benefit of the thermal waters’ healing qualities..
For an historical tour of a living Māori village; paddle through Lake Rotorua in a beautifully hand-carved canoe; enjoy a delicious hangifeast cooked in the steaming ground; or visit Ohinemutu Village to see the intricately carved traditional meeting houses and a Tudor-style church designed with Māori art and be captivated by the powerful song and dance of its passionate residents.
Today, the Māori people continue to play a major part in the local tourism industry, opening up their homes, villages and way-of-life to visitors and sharing passed-down practices such as the hongi greeting; Māori food, songs, dances; arts such as carving and weaving; Māori tattoo and Māori weaponry; and holistic knowledge such as Māori spirituality, massage and medicinal use of native plants; as well as local history and legends.
The Māori New Year allows us to reflect on the rich history of the Māori people, give thanks to their ancestors for the country’s magnificent living legacy, and give thanks to theland, sea and sky, which are central to the Māori way-of-life, and a time to to celebrate new beginnings.
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