A whale of a turnout for capital’s new Matariki celebrations

19 July 2018

The capital’s inaugural month-long Matariki celebrations are being hailed as a success as Wellington City Council tallies up attendance and overwhelming positive feedback for the capital’s first large civic celebration of the Māori New Year.

Matariki ki Pōneke, the Council’s new series of free outdoor public events to mark the Māori New Year, started on June 15 with ReCut ,an arts event in Te Ngākau Civic Square, followed by the inaugural Ahi Kā celebration of fire, food and whanau on 29 June. 

ReCut drew an estimated crowd of 2000 and a further 10,000 to 12,000 gathered on the waterfront for Ahi Kā.  Ahi Kā began at dusk with a magical children’s light parade Ngā Wai Pīata (Streams of Light) and  showcased many of Aotearoa’s top Māori artists. 

The celebrations ended on a bang with the Sky Show – the largest annual Council run fireworks show in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

An estimated 200,000 people watched the Sky Show harbour fireworks, which made their Matariki debut on July 14, after having being moved from November. 

Public feedback flooded in from families with young children and elderly thankful for the much earlier mid-year start time of 6.30pm.  

The Sky Show made national headlines when it was postponed a week from the presence of a tohorā/southern right whale in the harbour. This caused another big wave of support from public grateful for that decision, which was based on advice from DOC and mana whenua.    

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says the boost Matariki events have given to the city is palpable.

“People are saying to me that it’s great to celebrate a unique New Zealand event in a very Wellington way, bringing people together through art and culture. The enthusiasm for it has really blown me away.

“Council also supported dozens of other Matariki events which all helped get Wellington humming over the last month.”

Nearly 250 paddlers turned up for the Matariki Harbour Challenge, from waka ama clubs as far away as New Plymouth, Rotorua, Whanganui, Nelson and Christchurch.

Council partnered with Te Papa this year to stage a spectacular free outdoor cinematic dance work OneOne by Daniel Belton and Good Arts Company.      

Te Papa has been running Matariki events since around 2001 and last year surveyed more than 1000 people and found around 69 percent of New Zealanders were aware of Matariki, compared to 80 percent in Wellington. 

The rate was 62 percent in Auckland and 66 percent in Canterbury. 

Matariki celebrations among Māori tended to drop away in the 1930 and 40s but has since experienced a resurgence. 

“Wellington is already leading the country in embracing Matariki and I am confident our celebrations will only grow and be an example to the rest of the country,” the Mayor says.

Councillor Simon Marsh, who holds the Events and Economic Development portfolio, says the turnout shows the potential of a Matariki economy to have a real impact on Wellington’s winter.

“The New Zealand winter is usually associated with hunkering down and staying indoors, unlike our Northern Hemisphere counterparts who have Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Diwali and more to keep the winter months lively,” Cr Marsh says. 

“Talk to any city or town around the country and they’ll tell you this time of the year is the hardest to get public spaces activated and entice people to get out and about. 

“The fact that so many Wellingtonians are willing to get out and engage with Matariki can only be good news for the businesses around the waterfront and eventually the whole city.”

Jeremy Smith, president of the Wellington Hospitality Association, says bars and restaurants on the waterfront are always supportive of events that bring people out.

“It brought the crowds and an atmosphere to the waterfront. It’s an opportunity to showcase what we’ve got. 

“It’s the first year of putting a toe in the water. It’s bringing more people and as the event grows there will be more opportunity for them to spend.” 

In June, Mayor Justin Lester publicly called for Matariki to be celebrated as a public holiday. A Mayor’s Facebook page poll on whether Matariki was a more appropriate public holiday than the Queen’s Birthday holiday received 84 percent support (1183 votes).

Rongotai MP Paul Eagle took the idea to the Labour Māori caucus which supported the idea. It is now being looked at as part of a wider review of the Holidays Act which has been initiated by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.