A beginner’s guide to finding Matariki

Matariki (the Pleiades)

Matariki (the Pleiades)

Happy New Year!

The pre-dawn rise of Matariki, also known as the Seven Sisters or Pleiades, traditionally signals the Māori New Year under the maramataka, or lunar calendar.

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 28 June 2014.) 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.

The pot

The pot

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.

Matariki in the night sky

Matariki in the night sky

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.

22 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Karney || June 19th, 2009

    Great webpage, first time i have looked for Matariki, it was such a buzz to find it, tried looking from the hills in Whanganui but the city lights made it hard to see the stars clearly, i went out towards the east of Whanganui, Fordell country side and the stars were beautiful. Matariki was fuzzy’ish and i could only make out 6, couldn’t find the 7th but it may have been because it was the first time looking for them. I’m interested in learning more to why we look to these specific cluster of stars? Cheers

  2. Comment made by teylla || May 30th, 2011

    i think that we should try to find matariki

  3. Comment made by sianne || June 5th, 2011

    this is a awesome thing to do with family

  4. Comment made by Ashleigh || June 4th, 2012

    this website is amazing, i used this for home work, its straight to the point and easy to understand

  5. Comment made by saly || June 6th, 2012

    thanks for this very useful information about matariki…..I’m using it as a teaching module for adult learners of tikanga Maori…..Tino pai rawa atu!

  6. Comment made by sandra || June 26th, 2012

    Awsome web site !! very usefull, great to see the 7 sisters thanks :)

  7. Comment made by Camryn || June 11th, 2013

    I will take a look

  8. Comment made by Camryn || June 11th, 2013

    Great website :) :)

  9. Comment made by Tiernan || June 27th, 2013

    Great For homework :)

  10. Comment made by Ngawai || June 29th, 2013

    Kia ora, thank you this site, it made a difference for me to find Matariki and explain it to our tamariki. Mauri tu, mauri ora.

  11. Comment made by Ngawai || July 1st, 2013

    Woohoo, so awesome we saw Matariki this morning as clear as the hand in front of my face. Thank you so much for the instructions, so very very helpful. Mauri tu, mauri ora!

  12. Comment made by Basil Keane || July 2nd, 2013

    Kia ora Camryn, Tiernan and Ngawai. Thanks for the kind commnents.

  13. Comment made by Roger Fraser || July 9th, 2013

    I think it is important to balance the Matariki ’story’ with more facts around the history of this constellation. It always seems to me the story implies Matariki was only recently discovered by NZ Maori.

    As the Pleiades web site states “In fact the Pleiades star cluster was an object of wonder and interest long before Maori ever set foot in NZ. It was the subject of myth and legend in almost every culture on the planet.

    As the Pleiades cluster is close to the ecliptic (within 4°) in the constellation of Taurus it is a spring and autumnal ’seasonal’ object in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Being close to the ecliptic, there are frequent occultations of the cluster with the Moon and planets. To our superstitious ancestors these were, no doubt, portentious events. Likewise, the apparent annual motion of the cluster would have been highly significant. The heliacal (near dawn) rising of the Pleiades in spring in the northern hemisphere has from ancient times augured the opening of the seafaring and farming season: while its dawn autumnal setting marked the season’s end.

    The Pleiades are among the first stars mentioned in literature, appearing in Chinese annals of about 2350 BC. The earliest European references are somewhat later, in a poem by Hesiod in about 1000 BC and in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad.

    The Bible contains three direct references to the Pleiades in Job 9:9 and 38:31, and Amos 5:8, and a single indirect reference in the New Testament. This latter passage (Revelation 1:16) describes a vision of the coming of the Messiah – who holds, in his right hand, seven stars…

    The etymological derivation of the name Pleiades (Πλειαδεσ) is uncertain. Robert Graves, the late English poet and writer, records in his ‘The Greek Myths’ (1955) that it may be derived from either the Greek ‘plein’ for ‘to sail’, or ‘pleios’ meaning ‘many’. Another possible root is from Pindar, an early Greek poet, who named the cluster the Peleiades – ‘a flock of Doves’ – and this is, perhaps, the original form. A nearby cluster has retained its animalistic classical name of the Hyades, ‘the Piglets’.

    The 19th century poet Alfred Lord Tennyson probably did not realise how metaphorically close to the truth he was when he described, in his poem Locksley Hall, the rising Pleiades:

    Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
    Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.

    Poetic and apt – recent telescope observations have revealed that this most famous of open clusters is comprised of some four hundred stars wreathed in complex nebulæ of dust and gas.

  14. Comment made by Hilary Clifton || July 13th, 2013

    I found it! Finally after getting up early on countless mornings to stumble about a frosty deck or to cloud and certainly not to find Matariki. I finally did it (using The Pot as my reference) - it was worth the effort. Thanks also to Roger Fraser for his excellent scientific and poetic explanation of the star cluster - “glittering like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid” - gorgeous.

  15. Comment made by Grace hards || June 9th, 2014

    I think that it is a good website.

  16. Comment made by Julie Gray || May 27th, 2015

    Thanks very much for this info. I will try to find this constellation this year and will encourage my students to do the same. Also integrates perfectly with instructional writing so double bonus!!!

  17. Comment made by Patricia White || June 12th, 2015

    Hopefully the skies will remain cloudless over the Waikato so at least this year I will be able to view the Pleiades/Matariki stars. Many thanks Roger for the more complete historical context which I will pass on to my students.

  18. Comment made by Jan Hamill || June 15th, 2015

    Kia ora, thanks for the useful information. We are establishing a tradition of matariki at our kindy and I will be making a flyer to pass on to parents regarding some of the traditions. Thanks for making my understanding clearer on both PUaka and matariki.

  19. Comment made by William Grant || June 16th, 2015

    I found a cluster of 7 stars

  20. Comment made by Azraena || June 24th, 2015

    wow! thank you for the great info! Dad and I got up at 6 o’clock this morning to see the magical sparkling Matariki stars.

  21. Comment made by Janet Askew || June 27th, 2015

    From Parua Bay Whangarei NZ
    How many handspans from Orion’s Belt to Matariki?

  22. Comment made by Te Papa's Blog | Ko te whānau o Matariki: Matariki Education Resource 2015 – Part 2 || April 11th, 2016

    [...] the coldest time each year the Matariki star cluster comes rising up for the first time in the eastern sky. This occurrence marks the beginning of an important time of [...]

Leave a comment

By posting comments you signify that agree to and accept the Terms and Conditions of this Blog.

Please enter current year *