Following This Course in Maori Starlore, Your Perception of the Night Sky Will Forever Change.

In the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve on New Zealand’s South Island, the breathtaking view of the star-studded Milky Way against a jet-black sky is unlike any other. Local Māori guide Tutepourangi Manihera-Thomson from the Dark Sky Project offers a unique perspective on stargazing, rooted in Māori culture and traditions.

The constellations and stars visible in the night sky from the Southern Hemisphere are seen in a different orientation. For instance, Orion appears upside down with Betelgeuse at the bottom right instead of the top left. Similarly, the constellation of Scorpius, seen as a scorpion by most, is seen as a waka (star canoe) in Māori astronomy.

In Māori culture, giant canoes hold significant importance as they were used to navigate the vast expanse of the South Pacific and discover New Zealand in the 13th century. Another waka is found in the Pleiades star cluster, which is believed to gather the souls of the deceased during the Māori New Year in July before releasing them as stars across the heavens.

Māori astronomy, or tātai aroraki, serves practical purposes such as navigation and marking the passing of seasons. It also has spiritual significance, as the stars are believed to connect the living on Earth with gods (or atua) and deceased ancestors (tipua) in the sky. This unique interpretation of the starry night sky is gaining popularity, coinciding with a surge in astrotourism.

The Crater Experience tour, offered by the Dark Sky Project, provides an immersive experience in Māori astronomy. The tour includes telescope time in a purpose-built observatory, revealing the wonders of the Milky Way and its constellations. The sight of familiar constellations and stars takes on new meaning through the lens of Māori culture, infusing stargazing with a profound sense of history and spirituality.

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