The Hawke Bay shoreline from Cape Kidnappers to Tāngoio will be set on fire on Saturday July 15 in a project organisers hope will become an annual Matariki tradition.

Called ‘Matariki Mahuika/Home Fires’ after Mahuika, the Goddess of fire, the project encourages people to go to the beach at dusk and either join with others or light their own fire so there are beacon fires around the sweep of the Bay. 

The project has the OK from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and local councils, and is organised by local Fire Festival Aficionado Neill Gordon in conjunction with Ngati Kahungunu events manager Te Rangi Huata. 

“It is a perfect way to bring people together to celebrate Matariki,” says Mr Huata, “and I am certain it will capture people’s imaginations.” 

Gordon says they would have liked to light up the coast right around to Mahia. “But ironically, there is too much wood on the northern Hawke’s Bay beaches for that to be safe this year. 

“Cyclone Gabrielle has gifted us an excess of driftwood and one of the rationales for the project is that the wood is likely to be set on fire at Guy Fawkes, New Year or some other occasion and it makes more sense to do this in July at a time of low-fire risk.”

He is encouraging people to head to the beach from 5pm on 15 July, “take their fish and chips, marshmallows, guitar . . . light their fire, welcome people in and put their fire out before they go”.

Participants are encouraged to register their intention to take part by emailing so they can be advised on best practice and potentially alerted to a postponement – in consultation with FENZ – if weather is adverse. The postponement date is July 22.

Gordon, who curated the very successful Waiohiki Creative Arts Village’s Earth, Food and Fire festival last October, sees this event as not so much about the fires themselves as it is the people standing around them: Matariki hunga nui – Matariki, the gatherer of people. He and Huata believe the idea is likely to catch on not only in Hawke’s Bay but be adopted nationwide as a cornerstone event of annual Matariki celebrations.

Key concepts for ‘Matariki Mahuika/Home Fires’ are manaakitanga – hospitality, kindness and generosity; and kaitiakitanga – taking care of the environment.

“That means inviting people in to share the warmth of your fire, sharing kai, looking after your fire the whole time and putting it out before you go,” Gordon says.

“Some folk might like to be fire-keepers and stay with their fire until it burns out but we suggest taking several buckets with you and – while being careful near the water – use seawater to extinguish your fire.

“It’s not a good idea to build too large a fire or include large logs because it is your responsibility to put that fire out.”

Lighting up the Napier Hastings beaches is not a new idea, Gordon says.

“It’s what people traditionally do at Guy Fawkes and it’s a beautiful sight – a string of fires right along Marine Parade and elsewhere and small groups enjoying themselves.

“Those November nights can be a bit dicey with fireworks shooting off all over the place and the drier landscape. And of course in November it’s not dark until it’s too late for young kids. With sunset in July about 5pm, it’s dark when littlies are still awake. Those factors we think help set up ‘Matariki Mahuika’ as a safer, family-friendly event and we hope people embrace that spirit.

FENZ Hawke’s Bay Community Risk Manager Nigel Hall says, “We can’t stop people burning in an open season and want people to be able to enjoy this culturally significant event in a safe way.”

Anyone considering lighting a fire should consult, he said.

All the advice and safety information is on that website but basic precautions include:

  • checking forecasted winds will not exceed 20 km/hr for the duration of the burn, 
  • not lighting more than you can manage or extinguish, 
  • ensuring material to be burnt is at least 10 metres away from other combustible material, 
  • creating a non-combustible fire break a minimum of 5 metres around your bonfire, 
  • the fire being completely extinguished once completed, and 
  • wearing appropriate clothing – wear natural materials such as wool or cotton because synthetic materials can melt causing significant injuries.

“And should the burn escape, call 111 immediately,” Mr Hall said.

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Photo: Putaanga Waitoa

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