Sir Edmund Hillary

Where it all began

Many of you would recognise the name Edmund Hillary as the first person to climb Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth.  This 8848 meter climb on May 29, 1953 instantly gave Edmund and his companion Tenzing Norgay a heroic status around the world, but this mans life was filled with many other crazy, admiral and scary things.

Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary was born on the 20th July 1919 and grew up in a small town called Tuakau, south of Auckaland.  He first became interested in climbing on a school trip to Mount Ruapehu when he was 16.  In 1939 he completed his first major climb,  Mount Ollivier, near Mount Cook in the Southern Alps.

Edmund and his brother Rex became bee keepers, a summer occupation.  This allowed Edmund to practice his climbing in winter. He served two years during world war II in the New Zealand air force as a navigator until he was discharged after being burnt in a boat accident.  In 1948 Edmund climbed the highest peak in New Zealand, Mount Cook.


Taking a tractor to the South Pole

Taking a tractor to the South Pole

After Edmund climbed mount Everest he was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II and became know as Sir Edmund Hillary.  After Everest, Hillary climbed 10 other peaks in the Himalayas between 1956 and 1965.  In 1958 he lead a New Zealand team to the South Pole which was the first time anyone had been there overland since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912 and the first ever using motorised vehicles (A Massey Ferguson tractor modified with tracks).

In 1977 he lead a jet boat expedition titled “Ocean to Sky” from the mouth of the Ganges river to its source.

In 1985 he accompanied Neil Armstrong (the first man to walk on the moon) in a small twin engined ski plane to the North Pole.  This made him the first person to make it all three ‘ends of the Earth’, the north and south pole and Everest.

In 1958 he was appointed New Zealand high commissioner to India as well as Bangladesh and Ambassador to Nepal.

Cheating death

In 1960 Hillary cheated death.  He missed his flight as he was running late.  This flight was involved in the 1960 New York air disaster were all 128 people on board the flights and 6 people on the ground were killed.

Between 1977 and 1979 Hillary commentated on several Antarctic sight seeing flights.  He was scheduled to commentate on 28th November 1979, but had to pull out due to work commitments in the United States.  He was replaced by his close friend, Peter Mulgrew.  This flight crashed into Mount Erebus killing all 257 on board.  New Zealands worst aviation disaster.

Hillary’s first wife, Louise and daughter, Belinda weren’t as lucky and died in a plane crash in 1975 while on the way to meet Edmund in Nepal.

In 1989 Hillary got remarried to his friend Peter Mulgre’s widowed wife.

Points of interest

In 1992 Sir Edmund Hillary became the only New Zealand to appear on a bank note while still alive.  Our $5 has a picture of him with Mount Cook in the background and his tractor he used to get to the South Pole in the bottom corner.

Five dollar note

He has also received countless awards and recognition’s and there are many places named after him.

Edmund was extremely shy and always down played his achievements throughout his life.  He was so shy he got his mother in law to ask his first wife to marry him.

Hillary spent over half his life raising money for charities.  The main one being the Himalayan trust which he founded.  Through his efforts many schools and hospitals were built in remote regions of the Himalayas.


Hillary died of heart failure on the 11th January 2008 at the age of 88.

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