What is Matariki?

Matariki is the name given to the open cluster of stars Pleiades or M45 in June by Māori as it marks the time for whānau (families) to get together, reconnect and reflect and honour those who passed away. It is also the name of the observance of the heliacal rising of the star cluster in June, just after or around the winter solstice. Matariki is an old Māori tradition that has entered into mainstream since approximately 2005 and became increasingly popular. 

Starting 2022, Matariki has become a public holiday in New Zealand. 

When is Matariki?

Traditionally, Matariki is observed when the heliacal rising of the star cluster Pleiades coincides with a certain Moon phase, that occurs on or just after the winter solstice. Different tribes traditionally used different phases of the Moon. For example, Full Moon, Tangaroa Moon (when the Moon is at Last Quarter) and the New Moon. Other tribes use the star Puanga – Rigel as Matariki is too low during that period of time around the winter solstice in some parts of New Zealand. 

Full Moon

14 June 2022

Tangaroa Moon

21 June 2022

New Moon

29 June 2022

 This year, Matariki has a set date for

24 June 2022

From 2022, Matariki will be a public holiday as agreed by the Matariki Advisory Committee.

“The Government has committed to ensuring mātauranga Maori is at the heart of celebrations of the Matariki public holiday, and it will be a time for:

  • Remembrance – Honouring those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki
  • Celebrating the present – Gathering together to give thanks for what we have
  • Looking to the future – Looking forward to the promise of a new year”

Matariki as public holiday is significant, being the first public holiday that recognises Te Ao Māori.


Did you know?

The Pleiades disappear from the night sky approximately mid April and reappear just after mid June. 

Where do the Pleiades go?

The cluster is part of the zodiacal constellation of Taurus which lay near the path of the Sun, the ecliptic (and the Moon). In angular measurements, they are one degree from the ecliptic, which is the width of your pinky at arms-length.

12 zodiacal constellations form the zodiacal band. As the Earth orbits around the Sun, our vantage point changes every day by about one degree, and each zodiacal constellation is hidden by the blaze of the Sun for about two months a year. For the same reason, the Pleiades disappear from our evening night sky in mid April, setting in the west just after sunset and reappear in the morning sky in mid, June rising just before the Sun.

From April to June the constellation of Taurus is visually behind the Sun.

What is heliacal rising?

When a celestial object, which has been absent from the sky for a period less than a year, rises and is visible just briefly before sunrise, the phenomenon is called heliacal rising. Heliacal rising occurs annually and the name comes from “Helios”, which is the ancient Greek name of the Sun. Traditionally, the heliacal rising of various objects in the sky was used to mark important dates, such as the New Year but not only that. For instance, the heliacal rising of the Pleiades heralded the start of the Ancient Greek sailing season. 

Heliacal phenomena are obvious part of the basic rhythms of the sky.[…] a frequent application is for calendric purposes.

B.E Schaefer, heliacal rise Phenomena, 1987

Matariki is a heliacal phenomenon

Are there 7 or 9 stars in Matariki?

What are the 9 stars of Matariki called?


What countries celebrate Matariki?

himalayas, mountains, stars

Matariki, observed in winter is a time of reflection

Mehemea ka tuohu ahau me maunga teitei’ | If I should bow my head let it be to a high mountain. 
Māori proverb