Matariki Stars Celebrated In New Zealand 

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

A second chance to participate in a magical celebration…

Last June I went to Whangarei for the first time. It was a sad occasion as I said goodbye to the wonderful American couple with whom I had shared my bubble and Passover Seder during lockdown and become good friends with.

I went to the tourist office my last day there to see what else I might find on another visit and learned I had missed the Matariki (Maori New Year) celebration. I was really disappointed, figuring I’d never get the chance again. I did at least get to see an art exhibit to learn that Matariki is the Maori name for the cluter of stars also known as the Pleiades. They are also called the seven sisters, although, according to Greek tradition, the Pleaides has nine stars, and even Maori tradition relates to nine stars. They rise mid-winter, and, for many Maori, represent the start of a new year.

penguins in Ushuaia

Lanterns for sale for the Matariki lantern walk.

One year later, I’m still here. Last minute I learned that Saturday night was a local gathering to celebrate the Matariki. Due to other obligations, I arrived so late to the event they told me it was just about over. Missed, again, or so I thought.

I plodded onwards nonetheless to the event area; the outdoors of a school turned into a festival.

“A combination of spirit, tradition, magic and creativity.”

A fairy home along the lantern walk. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved.

I should mention I’ve tried, several times, since I learned I’d be in New Zealand a while, to open a bank account here. It never worked out. Recently, I tried again because I finally had a 6-month visa, one of the requirements I had previously not been able to meet. I was rejected when I tried to open the account live, but just this week, I don’t understand why, my online application was accepted. I finally got a New Zealand bank account! I figured there must be a reason why it worked this time.

One of the main activities at the festival is to purchase a lantern and walk around to admire the decorations. I had missed the lantern walk, but could still go on my own. Problem was, I had to purchase a token. The only way to do that was with cash (I had none on me) or with a local bank account. Yup. I knew there was a reason I got my bank account this week.

Token in hand, I selected a lantern. Beautiful. Glittery. And then I did the lantern walk. 

There were fairy houses, beautiful lights, a commemoration to saving the kauri trees from the dieback disease threatening them and then I saw them. Just like the Art exhibit I had seen in Whangarei – the Matariki stars were hanging above me. I felt blessed to finally be able to honor the occasion, live, even if a little bit late.

It was a blend of magic, culture, tradition and something that only happens once a year. I’m so glad I finally got to participate in the event. I also find it fascinating that the New Zealand government has just planned out the day of the holiday for the next 30 years. If I understand properly, they determine the approximate date the Matariki stars will rise each year, and then change the holiday date accordingly. I’m still blown away at how much the government here can do in a short period, and of how important they treat Maori tradition. Happy Matariki Day!

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