A Beginner’s Guide to Matariki Stargazing: Where To Look for Whetū in Aotearoa

An image of night sky filled with stars at Dark Sky Project.

Matariki marks the arrival of a treasured cluster of whetū (stars) in the winter sky.

Words by: Kelly Tapper
Photos by: Supplied 

The Matariki cluster - not to be confused with a constellation - can be seen across the world and has a glittering array of other names including Subaru in Japan, the Pleisades or Seven Sisters in the UK and Makali‘i, or ‘eyes of the king’ in Hawaii. The reappearance of Matariki in the Southern Hemisphere signifies the beginning of Māori New Year, a sacred time of remembrance and reflection of the year past, to celebrate the present and look ahead to the year to come.

And if all the stars of Matariki feel closer, that’s because they are. Matariki is one of the star clusters nearest to Earth, and you may be surprised to learn, that Matariki is actually best seen at dawn before sunrise. So, if you’re keen to see Matariki twinkling (or stars any time of year), we’ve found some of the best places to stargaze across Aotearoa.

Dark Sky Project

1 Motuariki Lane, Takapō (Lake Tekapo)

Bringing the night’s sky to life is Dark Sky Project, whose mountaintop observatory on the summit of Mount John is an unrivalled stargazing experience. With minimal light pollution and its internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve overhead, the region around Tekapō is the largest reserve of this type, and one of the best places to stargaze in the world. The Summit Experience is sure to ignite your passion for astronomy for light years to come and give all-important access to the observatory’s telescopes. We suggest preluding your stargazing with some delicious kai from Dark Sky Diner too.

A person looking through a telescope at a star filled night sky.

Stardome Observatory & Planetarium

670 Manukau Rd, One Tree Hill Domain, Epsom, Auckland

Ever so reminiscent of Rebel Without a Cause, Stardome in Auckland is an observatory and planetarium that offers incredible views of the city’s night sky. For Matariki, Stardome is running a programme of events including an immersive light show and their ever-popular planetarium show Ngā Whetū o Matariki. If you want a kid-friendly place to introduce Matariki, why not try “the coolest little observatory this side of Neptune”.  

Stars in the night sky.

Good Heavens Night Tour

Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

Gazing up at whetū on Great Barrier Island with a local guide from Good Heavens is a must. The island is an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and while you admire the star ladden skies, you’ll hear the lapping sounds of the waves. Sit back in your moon chair amongst the sand dunes at Medlands Beach and revel in this transportive experience complete with useful tips on how to orient yourself when staring up at the night’s sky. 

The night sky with lots of stars.

Wai-iti International Dark Sky Park

437 Wakefield-Kohatu Highway, Wai-iti

The 135 hectare park Wai-iti is a short jaunt from Nelson and has been popular with locals as a recreational reserve since the nineteenth century. In more recent times, Wai-iti has gained attention for its unadulterated views of the night sky, and with the help of the Dark Sky Association, it has become a recognised Dark Sky Park. Dark Skies Tasman run regular events including sidewalk astronomy and star parties that are fun, informative and share the importance of preserving the night sky for present and future generations.

A pink starry sky.

Twinkle Dark Sky Tours

Oban, Stewart Island

International Dark Sky Sanctuary, tick. Sightings of Aurora australis, tick. Ridiculously good stars, tick. There’s a lot to love about stargazing on Stewart Island. If you’re going to delve into astronomy, you may as well dabble when you’re in one of the best places in the world to view the galaxies. Twinkle Dark Sky Tours - run by ​​Astronomer Al and stargazing partner, Jen - is the perfect way to behold the sights of our solar system and the wider universe all whilst they share their expert knowledge of space, stars and beyond. Who knows you may even see that strange blue spiral again!

A dark starry night.

Stonehenge Aotearoa

51 Ahiaruhe Road, Ahiaruhe 5792

Situated in the Wairarapa countryside, Stonehenge Aotearoa is a homage to the pre-historic stone monument found on the Salisbury plains in the UK. Impressive in scale, Stonehenge Aotearoa is also an open-sky observatory that specialises in archeoastronomy helping to unravel how our ancestors used the stars. Private stargazing tours are available with Under The Stars where you can learn more about stars and view clusters, planets, the Moon and galaxies using their portable telescope.

The Southern Cross Constellation.

Neat Auckland Places

Red Rabbit

Two woman having a coffee at a leaner table at Red Rabbit, Auckland.
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Situated in Parnell’s industrial quarter, Red Rabbit’s Faraday Street outpost is where the locals come for their caffeine hit.

Mr T's Baked Goods & Eatery

Close up of baguettes for sale at Mr T's Baked Goods and Eatery, Auckland.
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A trip to

Cotto

Cotto Restaurant sign.
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You simply can’t talk about the best of Auckland’s dining scene without mentioning Cotto.

Bandung Café

Woman holding cocktail and plates of food at Bandung Café, Auckland.
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Inspired by home cooking from the team’s roots in Java, Parnell’s Bandung Café boasts a fresh take on Indonesian cuisine.