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Matariki, Matariki Star Cluster
Matariki, Matariki Star Cluster

ĀteaJuly 10, 2023

A brief guide to the stars of Matariki

Matariki, Matariki Star Cluster
Matariki, Matariki Star Cluster

In te ao Māori, each star plays an important role for the year to come.

The Matariki public holiday is almost upon us, so right now is the perfect time to learn more about te ao Māori. The whetu (stars) are what signify the coming of the Māori new year, and are visible during this time of year across much (but not all) of the motu. Each whetu in Te Kahui o Matariki (the Matariki star cluster) is associated with an important role in the coming year. 

A photo that shows where Hiwa-i-te-rangi is.


This whetu symbolises a hopeful and prosperous year ahead. Because of that, Hiwa-i-te-rangi is a wishing star with which historic Māori associated what we now call New Year’s resolutions. Hine-i-te-rangi not only represents a hopeful outlook, but also the need to make plans for how to succeed, prosper and grow.

A photo that shows where Matariki is.


This star cluster is named after its mother whetu, Matariki. She is associated with ora (wellbeing), reflection, hope and the human connection to the environment. Sightings of Matariki bestow good health, luck and peace on onlookers, but her effects are strongest when she brightly sits in the sky. Matariki is known to bring people together, and a national day off increases her capacity to do that. 

A photo that shows where Pohutukawa is.


Through encouraging reflective remembrance, Pōhutukawa connects us to the dead – particularly people who died recently. This whetu is related to the passage of the dead’s wairua (spirits), as some believe that spirits’ journeys along Te Ara Wairua (the pathway of the spirits) ends at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), where spirits enter the underworld through the roots of a pōhutukawa. She can also serve as an omen of impending loss. 


Tupu-ā-nuku is the patron star of ground kai, like kūmara. In May, Tupu-ā-nuku signifies the end of the summer harvest and that winter is coming. The brightness of this whetu indicates when to start preparing for winter planting and how bountiful the harvest will be. Kai is particularly important during occasions when whānau and friends come together, like Matariki.


The twin of Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi is the patron of sky food. That isn’t just birds – it also includes berries, fruits, leaves, shoots and other edible parts of the ngahere (bush/forest) suspended in the air. Although in the past, Tupu-ā-rangi sightings symbolised the time to hunt birds like kerurū, these days, it signifies a good time to collect winter fruits and berries. You’ve probably seen plenty of prolific citrus trees recently!

A photo that shows where Ururangi is.


This star is the patron of wind, and Māori have long gazed upon Ururangi to predict the wind’s severity for the following year. The weather whetu, Ururangi and Waipuna-ā-rangi, sit over the top of the other Matariki stars because their rain and wind come from the sky above. Through his association with wind, Ururangi is closely connected with Tāwhirimātea, the deity of the winds. 

A photo that shows where Waipuna-a-rangi is.


Waipuna-ā-rangi is the whetu of water from the sky: hail, rain and snow. By the time of Matariki, ua has readied Papatūānuku for planting. Because of rain, this whetu is intricately connected to Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waitī and Waitā. The visibility of Waipuna-ā-rangi within Te Kahui o Matariki signifies the weather in the year to come.


Waiti is responsible for freshwater, like awa (rivers/streams), repo (wetlands), roto (lakes) and waipuna (springs), and the life that call those waterways home, such as crayfish, eels, mussels, watercress and whitebait. Historically, kai from Waitī, like eels, were cooked in hangi/umu during the Māori new year.


The twin of Waitī, Waitā is the patron of the moana (oceans/seas) and exerts influence over the ebb and flow of the tides. Much like his twin Waitī, Waitā is responsible for food from water, but his jurisdiction is over kaimoana like fish, kina and seaweed.

To find Te Kahui o Matariki, gaze out to the northeast horizon just before dawn, specifically between 5:30-6:30am. The main way to identify the star cluster is to search out Te Punga (the Southern Cross), then look east and find Tautoru (Orion’s Belt/the bottom of The Pot), next gaze north until finding the triangular cluster of Te Kokotā (Hyades), lastly look leftward once more to find Te Kahui o Matariki, which is nearly the same width as Tautoru is long.

Like the western New Year, Matariki is a time for reflection and to set intentions. But those intentions can be specifically devoted to one of the whetu in the Matariki star cluster. Keen on fishing? Send your tribute to Waitā. Looking to reconnect with someone who recently passed? Devote your intention to Pōhutukawa. No matter your intentions for the coming year, the Māori new year is the perfect time to hold hākari (feasts), wānanga (forums for discussion) and to learn something new. 

Keep going!