10 June 21: Waikato Matariki celebrations set to be biggest yet

The haunting sounds of the kuia karanga and taonga pūoro will echo through the mist at Hamilton Gardens early tomorrow morning to herald the start of this year’s Matariki ki Waikato festival.

Now in its 12th year, the celebration is New Zealand’s longest running Matariki festival. And with more than 60 events planned across the Waikato region between 11 June and 31 July, it promises to be the biggest yet.

Festival director Bea Mossop says the variety of events this year will provide memorable experiences for locals of all ages, as well as visitors to the region.

Highlights will include the Te Ruru Light Festival in Hinemoa Park and Boyd Park tomorrow night (11 June), featuring live performances and creative light installations and the Matariki ki Te Whare Taonga o Waikato cultural event at Waikato Museum on 19 June.

In Waitomo, a series of unique events are planned in and around the underground world of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Visitors can enjoy a magical Matariki Twilight tour through the caves on 3 July or attend workshops on Māori medicine and nature. Māori artworks will be exhibited at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Centre and a special one-night-only concert, dining and cave tour evening will be held on 10 July, complete with boil-up, fried bread and kawakawa tea.

“There are so many fantastic events and I’m amazed at the community support this year,” Ms Mossop says.

“We have live shows, art exhibitions and community events taking place across the entire region, from Waitomo, Matamata. Raglan and Morrinsville to Ngāruawāhia, Te Aroha and Te Awamutu.”

A highlight for families will be the Manu Tukutuku whānau kite day at Hamilton Gardens. Organised by the Friends of Hamilton Gardens, this free event encourages families to learn about and make manu tukutuku kites, before flying them together with others.

Friends of Hamilton Gardens president Marleina Ruka says Manu Tukutuku is a great way for parents and children to learn about Matariki in a way everyone can relate to

“The best part of the day is to see that hill beside the lake come alive in colour with kids, fathers, mothers and grandparents. It’s the community, family and laughter of children playing together that makes it special.”

Music lovers won’t want to miss Whiti at Hamilton’s Meteor Theatre on 2 July. The show will feature performances from New Zealand artists and DJs, along with the ‘Nine Star Stage Competition’ giving young people the chance to share their own music, dance, poetry or performance about what Matariki means to them.

“It’s a night of storytelling, soundscapes, connection and alchemy,” says organiser Michael Moore, from Creative Waikato.

“I think the key element of what we’re aiming to do with Whiti this year is to weave together traditional stories of Matariki with the stories of young people today.”

Ms Mossop says dozens of other community events will be held as part of Matariki ki Waikato, including poi making workshops, kapa haka performances and astrology talks about the Matariki star cluster, which announces the start of the Māori New Year when it comes into view on the eastern horizon.

“Matariki is about the stars but it is also about community, health and wellbeing. Community events are the heart of the festival and we have also made an effort to include social change events like Rob Mokaraka’s Shot Bro show at Meteor Theatre, which tackles issues of depression and mental health.”

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson says it is exciting to see a great line-up of events celebrating Matariki across the mighty Waikato in 2021.

“We have around 2.6 million people living within a three-hour drive radius of Hamilton & Waikato, which is a significant domestic market for our region and we look forward to welcoming visitors and locals alike to the events being held over the next month,” he says.

“Matariki is a time to celebrate new beginnings and plan for the year ahead. It’s a time to spend with whanau and friends, to reconnect, enjoy kai, share stories and reflect on the year gone by.”

The Matariki star cluster – also known as the Pleiades – reappears in the dawn sky above Aotearoa New Zealand in June and July each year, signalling the start of the Māori New Year.

More information about Matariki ki Waikato and events on offer can be found at matarikiwaikato.nz