Happy New Year!
In general, celebration of Matariki starts when the first new moon can be seen following the pre-dawn rise of Matariki. (UPDATE: this will happen on 21 June 2012) The new moon can be seen on 5 June in 2008, and celebrations kick off from 6 June. Traditionally, Matariki was both a time to commemorate those who had passed on, and celebrate a time of plenty when stores were abundant from horticulture, hunting and fishing.
For some iwi, Puanga (Rigel), rather than Matariki, was the signal for the new year. For instance, Whanganui iwi are having a Puanga festival. In the South Island it is Puaka (which is Puanga in Ngāi Tahu dialect) that heralds the new year.
Whether you’re celebrating Matariki or Puanga, here’s an easy guide to try to find the stars.
How to find Matariki
Matariki is found low on the horizon in the north east of the sky. Try looking here between 5.30 a.m. and 6.30 a.m.
1. First find the pot (the bottom three stars of the pot are also called Tautoru, or Orion’s Belt). To find Puanga (Rigel) look above the pot until you see the bright star. To find Matariki, keep going.
2. To the left of the pot, find the bright orange star, Taumata-kuku (Alderbaran).
3. Follow an imaginary line from Tautoru (the bottom three stars of the pot), across to Taumata-kuku and keep going until you hit a cluster of stars.
4. That cluster is Matariki. If you have good eyes you should be able to pick out individual stars. If it looks fuzzy, look just above or just below and the stars will be clearer.
This picture, from AstronomyNZ, shows the relative position of Matariki (Pleiades) to Taumata-kuku (Alderbaran), Tautoru (Orion’s belt), Puanga (Rigel) and Takurua (Sirius).
Let me know if you find it.