A visit to Mt Ruapehu as a schoolboy in 1935 ignited New Zealand's greatest explorer's interest in the mountains. After school Ed followed his father's career of beekeeping and then joined the air force and for two years served as a navigator on Catalina flying boats before a crash saw him discharged.
He then joined the New Zealand Alpine Club and was involved in the first ascent of Aoraki/Mount Cook's southern ridge. Ed was first introduced to the Himalayas in 1951 and the following year was invited to join a British Everest Committee training team. By 1953, he was an essential member of the British team led by Colonel John Hunt.
Their timing of the final assault on Everest's 8,846m summit was considered near perfect and with that Hillary and Tenzing carved their names into history at 11.30am on May 29, two days before Queen Elizabeth's coronation in London. The news broke the day before the event and London's Daily Mail trumpeted: "No monarch ever rode to Coronation with such splendid tidings ringing round her realms."
After Everest there were fresh fields to conquer. In 1955 the world's first Ski Plane using a retractable ski took off for the Tasman Glacier, piloted by it's inventor, the great pioneer Harry Wigley. Funnily enough, one of his passengers on this historic day was you guessed it' - Ed. Being first was becoming quite the habit and as you've been reading, in 1958, Hillary led a New Zealand party supporting Vivian Fuchs on the first-ever crossing of the Antarctic continent through the South Pole. The press billed it as "the Last Great Journey in the World", then it became another "Race for the Pole" as Hillary decided to press on beyond the line of supply depots he established for Fuchs and make a dash for the Pole himself. Hillary had started from Scott Base and Fuchs from Shackleton Base. Deaf to instructions to turn back, Hillary and his team, on three adapted Massey Ferguson tractors, arrived at the South Pole on 4 January 1958.
In 1968, Hillary traversed the wild rivers of Nepal on a jetboat. He did the same up the Ganges, from its mouth to its source in the Himalayas, in 1977 with his good mate Sir William Hamilton who invented the jet boat. In 1985, Hillary and astronaut Neil Armstrong flew a small twin-engine ski plane to the North Pole, making Hillary the first person to stand at both poles and the summit of Everest, also known as the "third pole."
Without any fuss and compensation, Hillary spend decades pouring energy and resources from his own fund-raising efforts into Nepal through the Himalayan Trust he founded in 1962. Known as "Burra sahib" or "big man" for his 6ft 2in frame, Hillary funded and helped build hospitals, health clinics, airfields and schools.
He considered this his greatest achievement.
On January 11, 2008, aged 88, Sir Edmund Hillary, the unassuming beekeeper who "knocked the bastard off", passed away peacefully and New Zealand (and the world for that matter) lost one of it's very best.