NZ celebrates Matariki

Matariki star cluster

On 24 June Aotearoa New Zealand celebrated its first indigenous public holiday, Matariki. Chris Howard, winner of last year's writing competition, reports on an associated feast.

The Māori New Year is marked by the midwinter rising of the star cluster Matariki. Culturally significant around the world, the constellation is mentioned in the Koran, the Talmud and the Bible, and even features in the 17,000-year-old paintings in France’s Lascaux caves. Most commonly known by its Greek name, Pleiades, the star cluster goes by Subaru in Japan, Makali’i in Hawaii and Isilimmela in southern Africa.

For ancestral Māori, the arrival of Matariki signals the change of seasons and serves as a guide for planting, harvesting, navigating, working and resting. Traditionally falling at the end of the harvest, Matariki was a time of abundant food and feasting, as well as remembrance, celebrating the present and looking to the future.

Here in Wellington, I was lucky enough to attend an official Matariki dinner. The event saw leading Māori chefs create an innovative tasting menu based around Māori produce and wines from members of Tuku, a Māori winegrowing collective formed in 2016. Spanning Hawke’s Bay to Central Otago via Marlborough, the Māori-owned wineries are united by a common set of cultural values, despite different iwi (tribal) affiliations. These are:

  • Kaitiakitanga – guardianship of land and people, with a strong sense of responsibility to future generations.
  • Whakapapa – ancestry and heritage, linking people to all other living beings, the earth and sky.
  • Whānaungatanga – building and maintaining familial relationships, a sense of belonging.
  • Manaakitanga – hospitality and generosity, sharing and appreciating one another and creating special moments.

It’s not difficult to see how such values foster a sustainable approach to winegrowing. Like those of other indigenous peoples, Māori life ways are inherently regenerative, long before the arrival of our latest buzzword. Guided by lunar and astronomical cycles, Māori were also biodynamic farmers centuries before Rudolph Steiner coined the term. It’s worth reflecting on how much our modern discourse makes sense only in the context of industrial capitalism.

At the dinner, wines by Tohu, te Pā, Steve Bird, Kuru Kuru, Taiao Estate and Tiki were introduced in a fluid mix of English and Māori by Wellington sommelier Ruakura Huata.

Ruakura Huata presenting the Tuku wines
Ruakura Huata presenting the Tuku wines (image: Te Rawhitiroa)

It was a difficult choice, but the best pairing I tasted on the night was Chatham Island blue cod with te Pā’s Reserve Seaside Sauvignon Blanc 2021. Grown along Cloudy Bay in Marlborough’s lower Wairau subregion, near one of the first landing sites by Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand, the wine’s deep tropical flavours, elegant restraint and vibrancy perfectly suited the firm white fish encased in delicate karengo ravioli brushed with a smoked butter sauce. As this and other dishes demonstrated (the full menu is included below), contemporary Māori cuisine is on the rise, blending culinary traditions while respecting its oceanic roots.

Te Pā proprietor Haysley Macdonald sees that it’s the Māori family ownership and the proud heritage that really connects with people and commented, ‘I hope there will be more opportunities that recognise and celebrate the special significance of Māori food and beverage producers because they are truly world-class and offer huge potential as a window into the world of everything Aotearoa New Zealand has to offer.’

It was a big night, so I also appreciated the alcohol-free Wai Manuka at the table and the affable Māori entrepreneurs who created it with whom I sat. Blending sparkling water with premium manuka honey and lemon, this rich yet refreshing concoction evoked a Spätlese Riesling with bubbles.

te Pā’s Seaside Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in the Lower Wairau Valley, Marlborough
te Pā’s Seaside Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in the Lower Wairau Valley, Marlborough (image: te Pā)
Renowned Māori chefs Grant Kitchen and Riwa Spraggon
Renowned Māori chefs Grant Kitchen and Rewi Spraggon (image: Te Rawhitiroa)

In post-colonial societies such as Aotearoa New Zealand, passing an indigenous public holiday into legislation is a major win for Māori and indigenous people everywhere. In fact, it’s a win for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

As winter pruning begins across the vineyards of New Zealand, Matariki marks the beginning of the new vintage. Because Matariki is based on a lunar rather than the solar calendar, the specific timing of the holiday changes from year to year. Whether a culture marks time by the sun or moon, our circular orbits never take us back to the same place – we just return to the same point on the spiral. Let’s keep this image in mind while toasting Matariki’s arrival, to Aotearoa NZ’s first people and everyone under the sheltering sky.

Tohunga Tūmau – Puanga Matariki tasting menu


Chef Grant Kitchen
Smoked manawatu lamb cutlet | rewana, horopito and puha crumb | bio farm artisan black garlic and Bunnythorpe truffle ranch | pickled pekepekekiore

Chef Peter Gordon
Creamed Paua on toast | tora paua | kawakawa rewana

Chef Joe McLeod
Weka | bone broth | doughbuoys | kopakoparua | riwai parissienne

Chef Rewi Spraggon
Hāngi crayfish and kina mousse | sponette
Crisp hāngi root vegetables | watercress kimchi  

  • Tohu Rewa Blanc de Blancs Traditionelle 2015 and Waiata Waipara Rosé 2020

Second course

Chefs Kasey and Karena Bird
Kina vinaigrette | Bluff oysters | Ika mata
Smoked crayfish | toasted brioche | makrut lime

  • te Pā Reserve Collection Seaside Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Third course

Chef Maia Atvars
Hāngi titi | puha | bone broth | angel hair

  • Taiao Estate Chardonnay 2017

Fourth course

Chef Rex Morgan
Rekohu blue cod and karengo ravioli | smoked butter sauce | pikopiko and watercress salad

  • Steve Bird Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Fifth course

Chef Tama Salive
Beef short rib | manuka honey glaze | maori potato and preserved feijoa salad | kawakawa and blueberry oil | nasturtium salt

  • Taiao Estate Merlot Cabernet 2016

Sixth course

Chef Te Awa Johnstone
Golden-syrup steamed pudding trifle | smoked berry compote | kawakawa custard  

  • Tiki Koro Waipara Noble Riesling 2017