Te Kātao a Matariki – the Water Stars of Matariki

Mānawatia a Matariki me Puaka – Celebrating Matariki and Puaka

Each year Christchurch City Libraries celebrates a different set of stars from the star cluster of Matariki. This year, 2023, we are celebrating again Te Kātao a Matariki – the Water Stars of Matariki.

Also, as some tribal areas say Puaka (Puanga) – Rigel is the star that brings the New Year as it always rises before Matariki we are acknowledging both traditions.

Te Kātao a Matariki are the three stars within the Matariki star cluster who are associated with water. Waipunarangi / Waipunārangi – associated with the rain, Waitī – associated with freshwater and Waitā – associated with seawater.  These stars are all closely linked to each other through the water cycle, where rain falls into the freshwater streams, which flows into the seawater, which evaporates into clouds which produces rain and so the cycle goes on.

Professor Rangi Mātāmua notes that traditionally Māori believed there were great pools of water in the sky that would overflow and fall down as rain to fill the freshwater streams, rivers and lakes, that then flow to the sea.  Hence the name Wai = water, puna = pools, a = of, rangi = skies. 

The Importance of Water

In recent years there has been much discussion regarding the importance of water. As climate change makes more of an impact on our environment, we are seeing many changes in our weather systems. In recent times we have witnessed a number of extremes within our own Country. Severe droughts in both the Far North and Southland in the summer of 2022 was only to be followed by extensive flooding throughout Te Matau a Māui | Hawkes Bay a year later in February 2023. Experts predict that such weather patterns are set to continue until we address the causes of climate change. There are a number of organisations that monitor drought and rainfall in Aotearoa including EHINZ and NIWA and their causes.

As an environmental indicator, Matariki has assisted Māori to predict and plan for the coming environmental year.  Te Kātao a Matariki – the water stars of Matariki are a reminder of the large role water plays in our ecosystem. When Waipunārangi was seen in the sky at the rising of Matariki, a person knowledgeable in the stars would forecast the state of the weather associated with rain for the coming year. The rainfall had an impact on the crops being grown so was payed close attention to because it would determine the quality of the harvest. The rainfall would also contribute fresh water to streams and lakes which flowed down into rivers and estuaries. These freshwater areas are the domain of Waitī including mahinga kai and ecological systems. As mahinga kai for tuna (eels), īnanga (whitebait), waikōura (freshwater crayfish), kōkopu (banded kōkopu), meant that the health of these areas was really important in sustaining the life that inhabited it. Water is also important in ensuring the health of the plants and vegetation living alongside the waterways providing both shelter and food. Flowing downstream we eventually reach the moana (sea) which is associated with Waitā. All the sea life such as ika (fish), tio (oysters), kuku (green-lipped mussel), kina (sea urchin), pāua (abalone), as well as coastal environments like beaches, rock pools and  reefs are guided by the rising of this star.

Water travels a long way and it goes through many different environments providing life to many different creatures, including us people. Its health is very important so we need to be good kaitiaki (guardian) and be mindful of how we can manaaki (take care of) our waterways.

More information

Water Pollution

In recent years water pollution has become a major concern to Aotearoa. Research by the University of Waikato regarding our rivers and lakes provides concerning findings and a warning on the state of our rivers and lakes. 

Water is the essence of all life and waiora (environmental well-being) but as our population grows and the demand on our natural environments increase, our waterways are in more and more danger. Water pollution is a big issue for our ecosystem and it’s a reality that we face here in Aotearoa. We once had some of the purest water in the world and they are taonga of our country and the iwi connected to them, however this is being compromised due to the pollution of waterways.

Through Te Tiriti o Waitangi Settlement Claims Act for Ngāi Tahu, they have rangatiratanga (the right to exercise authority) over the fresh water in their takiwā (district) and it is consequently the property and taonga of Ngāi Tahu. To fulfil their responsibility to restore and maintain the water to a healthy state for the benefit of everyone, In November 2020 “Ngāi Tahu lodged a statement of claim in the Christchurch High Court seeking recognition of its rangatiratanga over the freshwater in the Ngāi Tahu takiwā (area). Its statement of claim is to address the ongoing degradation of awa (rivers) and moana (lakes) caused by environmental mismanagement”. (TRoNT 2020) 

More information

Dr. Te Maire Tau and Liz Kereru explain the Statement of claim that Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu lodged in the video below.

Water Projects

Our fresh water is at risk of being at the point of no return and it can be seen in our dry riverbeds, our lack of mahinga kai and our water pollution. Added to the current stressors is climate change – creating higher instream temperatures and periods of drought. Despite this we have many projects by many different people, organisations and iwi that are striving to keep our waterways clean and healthy for future generations.

  • Whakaora Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) is a long-term project to fund the clean-up of fourth largest lake in Aotearoa.
  • Te Mana o Te Wai: The Health of our wai, the health of our nation: Kāhui Wai Māori report which sets out recommendations for our nation to transition to a new system of care and respect for water.
  • Marine Reserves and Marine Protected areas are managed by The Department of Conservation and are integral to the protection of our marine environments.
  • Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claim) Bill was a historic bill that protects the Whanganui River with legal personhood and recognises the importance of the river to iwi. Since this bill passed, there have been many other bodies of water in Aotearoa and around the world granted legal personhood such as,   
    • The Waikato River
    • The Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India
    • Lake Erie in Ohio, United States of America
    • In Bangladesh ALL rivers
    • Atrato River Basin in Colombia
    • Vilcabamba River in Ecuador


Because we think water is awesome and really important, here are some links to some cool water projects to give a try:

Te Kātao a Matariki - The water stars of Matariki sheet [151KB PDF]

For further reading

  • Take a look at our Matariki page for more information about the Māori New Year.
  • Check out our Ngā Whāinga – Challenges on mahinga kai to learn more about traditional food and other natural resources.