Storytelling is king at Stonehenge Aotearoa.  Leading astronomer Richard Hall is passionate about bringing the old stories back to life and sharing his passion for the stars to those who visit the full-scale working adaptation of Stonehenge in England, but built on the rolling hills in the Wairarapa countryside, a 10 minute drive from Carterton.

“Story form is traditionally how information was passed down from generation to generation and there is a concern we will lose the old stories,” says Richard Hall. “I love bringing those ancient stories to life here at Stonehenge Aotearoa.”

Richard is a born storyteller who easily captures and holds your attention. He is also happy to share his knowledge, especially this June when the Maori New Year occurs close to the Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere. The herald of the Maori New Year is the rising of star cluster Matariki (the Pleiades) also known at the Seven Sisters. Named for the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione in Greek mythology, they are a bright cluster in our winter skies – even though Richard says they are 400 light years away.

“They are perhaps, the most celebrated of all stars. They are the oldest mentioned in literature and played a significant role in cultures around the world both past and present,” he says. “Maori had special knowledge of the stars and understood they followed a seasonal cycle. They knew that the rising and setting of the stars marked the progression of seasons, and certain stars were said to bring seasonal foods.” 

On the website for Manatu Taonga, The Ministry for Culture and Heritage, it says that different tribes celebrated Matariki at different times.  For some it was when Matariki rose in May/June. For others it was celebrated at the first new moon, or full moon, following the rising of Matariki. In the 21st century it is the new moon following the rising of Matariki that signals the New Year. 

This year, Matariki is due to begin on 25 June, but a special evening will be celebrated at Stonehenge on 24 June. The presentation will explore the ancient meanings and significance of Matariki and their relationship to the solstices and equinoxes. The program includes a shared meal and, weather permitting, viewing the Sun set over the Winter Heel stone. It will also include helpful hints on how to spot Matariki (watch for a star cluster on the northeast horizon near the point where the sun rises - the best time for viewing is half an hour before the onset of dawn twilight).

It’s also a great opportunity to have a good look around Stonehenge Aotearoa, which looks like a huge astronomical clock with towering stones and was designed for its specific location. Its role is to accurately track the seasons and help New Zealanders understand the science of the stars within our southern skies. 

It’s not just the round structure itself which is important.  There are other stones which although appear to be randomly dotted about the site, are there to mark the rise and fall of the sun at each seasonal solstice.  At other times of the year, the sun will rise at set marker stones which pinpoint the summer solstice and spring and autumn equinoxes.

Visitors will also be able to see the obelisk, which is both a clock and calendar that can identify the current date and points to the exact time of local noon, and get a feel for the Henge’s incredible acoustics. Whether you know a little or a lot about the stars above us, a visit to Stonehenge will make you think twice.

When: Sat 24 Jun 2017, 4:30pm–7:00pm 

Where: Stonehenge Aotearoa, 51 Ahiaruhe Rd, Carterton, Wairarapa 

Ticket Information: Adult: $15.00; Senior (65+): $12.00; Child (Primary & Secondary students): $8.00. Phone: 06 3771600.