This collection celebrates the onscreen legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary — from triumphs of endurance (first atop Everest, tractors to the South Pole, boats up the Ganges) and a lifetime of humanitarian work, to priceless adventures in the NZ outdoors. Tom Scott and Mark Sainsbury — Ed’s TV biographers-turned-mates — offer their own memories of the man.
This episode from the first season of the show celebrating Kiwi heroes pays tribute to the exemplar: Sir Edmund Hillary. The greatest "damned good adventures" of Sir Ed's career (up to then) are bagged: his first peak (Mt Ollivier — reclimbed with son Peter here), trans-Antarctic by tractor, up the Ganges by jet-boat, school and hospital building in Nepal; and of course Everest, whose ascent is recreated with commentary from Hillary. Graeme Dingle provides reflection and presenter Neil Roberts has the last word: "[Sir Ed:] our own bold, bloody-minded magic Kiwi".
Following the conquest of Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, accompanied by fellow New Zealand climber George Lowe, arrives in Auckland and alights from a flying boat to a hero's welcome from a proud Kiwi public. After a further welcome in his home town, Papakura, Sir Edmund is interviewed by his brother Rex. In this NFU newsreel he muses about the last challenging step (soon to be named ‘Hillary's Step') and the suitability of the Southern Alps as preparation for, to paraphrase Sir Ed, knocking the bastard off.
Aotearoa's place as an adventure sport mecca is vividly captured in this classic 70s documentary, directed by Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace). Sir Edmund Hillary leads an A-Team of mates to tackle Fiordland's unclimbed Kaipo Wall. In part one, they set out to kayak and raft down the Hollyford River's white water rapids for the first time (they're soon overturned, bashed and wet). At Lake McKerrow they build a DIY sailboat with a tent fly and branches (Bear Grylls take note), then tramp along windswept sands and through thick bush to reach the imposing wall.
This Feltex Award-winning documentary follows the 1977 Indo-New Zealand Ganges expedition, where Sir Edmund Hillary and crew (including son Peter) attempt to jet-boat upriver from the mouth of the Ganges to its Himalayan heart. There, they aim to make a first ascent of Akash Parbat. The adventure pilgrimage was a proof of concept for the Kiwi-invented boat, and a return to action for Ed after mourning the death of his wife and daughter in a 1975 plane crash. The mission faces epic white water, altitude sickness and tigers, as they’re cheered on by throngs on the river’s banks.
These excerpts from part one of Tom Scott’s award-winning series on the life of Edmund Hillary look at his early years. Ed reflects on his youth as a gangly Auckland Grammar student, beekeeping, and a school trip to Ruapehu that sparked a “fiery enthusiasm” for alpine adventure. Coupled with a young man’s frustration with his “miserable, uninteresting life”, this passion for the hills soon led to a solo ascent of Mount Tapue-o-Uenuku as an RNZAF cadet — famously climbed on a weekend’s leave from Woodbourne base— and a 1947 ascent of Mount Cook, with his mentor Harry Ayres.
Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls) mixes archival material with recreations of the UK-led 1953 Everest expedition. 3D cameras were used to put viewers in the crampons of the climbers, and evoke the challenges of endurance and danger faced as they ventured to the top of the world. Edge debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, where it was one of two runner-ups for the People’s Choice Documentary Award.
This half-hour film from 1958 documents New Zealanders in Antarctica: researching International Geophysical Year, and supporting the Trans-Antarctic Expedition by laying supply depots for Vivian Fuchs’ overland crossing. National Film Unit cameraman Derek Wright films Edmund Hillary's team, capturing the drama of their (in)famous dash to the South Pole as they roll precariously forward in converted Ferguson tractors — “the best crevasse detectors ever invented” as Hillary notes. Hillary's team got to the South Pole on 4 January 1958, 82 days after leaving Scott Base.
Sir Ed Hillary, then in his early 50s, acts as tour guide to remote New Zealand. In the far north he receives a tokotoko (walking stick) and admires the Aupōuri people’s connection with the land. He goes bush and dives for scallops off Stewart Island and fishes on a Hollyford sandspit. In the Alps he tackles a 1971 grand traverse of Mount Cook with Harry Ayres and other mates. Not bad for a self-described "middle-aged family man who has tried to keep himself reasonably fit". Sir Ed narrates, and his down-to-earth passion for adventure makes this an inspiring travelogue.
Kiwi George Lowe directed this Oscar-nominated film of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58), which made the first overland crossing of the continent via the South Pole. Lowe joined mission leader Sir Vivian Fuchs’ party coming from Shackleton Base, spotting hazards for the vehicles and dogs. NFU veteran Derek Wright filmed the Edmund Hillary-led NZ support crew coming from the other side of Antarctica, and helped drive the tractors. Worried about running out of food while waiting for Fuchs to reach the Pole, Hillary and his team headed to the Pole first, against his orders.
Journalist Mark Sainsbury accompanies Sir Edmund Hillary on a "testimonial trek" to Nepal. This segment was the first of three that screened on Holmes in April 1991. Sir Ed travels to Tenboche Monastery, meets son Peter and fellow climber George Lowe, recalls his famous climb and reconnects with the sherpas who call him Barrah Sahib: the Big Man. En route Sir Ed gets altitude sickness and needs oxygen. He comments on the risks of returning to Everest: "I have the alternative of lolling on a sun-drenched beach [...] something I find exceptionally boring".
One of three special Edmund Hillary in Nepal segments that screened on Holmes in 1991, this piece looks into some of the schools and hospitals Hillary helped establish in Himalayan villages. Hillary and Lady June Hillary join the 30th anniversary celebrations of Khumjung School, one of the earliest projects instigated by the Himalayan Trust. Reporter Mark Sainsbury visits the school shed first built by Edmund and Rex Hillary in 1961; Sir Ed talks about his satisfaction in responding to local's requests, and the pressure to raise funds as he gets older.
In the last of three Holmes pieces made on a 1991 trip to Nepal alongside Sir Edmund Hillary, reporter Mark Sainsbury looks into the lives of the Sherpas. Angrita Sherpa talks about how his people have been portering for Western climbers since at least the 1950s, and his concerns that they preserve their culture and Buddhist religion. He reflects on their unique connection with Sir Ed and their apprehension as he ages. Sir Ed responds typically "I have quite a lot of motivation, but I don't regard myself as a hero at all — I'm petrified most of the time".
The Adventure World TV series saw Sir Ed lead an A-Team of mates on a run of adventures. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey, who enlisted Roger Donaldson to direct The Kaipo Wall and an (unproduced) Everest trip. Sir Ed and his climbing mate Mike Gill then went DIY and made two half hour films. This mission to climb The Needles — a rock stack off Great Barrier Island — was the first. Peter Mulgrew sails them over, Murray Jones goes parkour on the rocks and scales a kauri, Graeme Dingle surfs a dingy, and Sir Ed is the self-described “peppery co-ordinator”.
This National Film Unit documentary shows the NZ contingent training in the Aoraki Mount Cook area for their mission to Antarctica, as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. On the Tasman Glacier, they practise polar survival techniques, huskies are put through their paces and an RNZAF ski plane dramatically flips before a blizzard blows in, and some classic Kiwi DIY repairs are required on the ice runway. Team leader Sir Edmund Hillary narrates in laconic style. Cameraman Derek Wright went on to chronicle Sir Ed’s famous tractor dash to the pole.
"The story of a four-day journey from Westland to Canterbury, across the Southern Alps." Narration from the four climbers accompanies spectacular alpine imagery in this classic NFU film. In crevasse country they rope up and climb to "half way across the frozen roof of New Zealand" and share a can of tinned pineapple as reward. At Malte Brun Hut they meet Sir Edmund Hillary, Murray Ellis and Harry Ayres, and they descend together down the Tasman Glacier. Ayres reflects on the Alps as training ground for famous polar and Everest expeditions.
In this clip Holmes interviews Sir Edmund Hillary, a hero and legend to many New Zealanders. Sir Ed has just been awarded the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the International Variety Club. This is in recognition for the work Sir Ed has done for the people of Nepal. Sir Ed is celebrating at a function in the TVNZ atrium and is interviewed in a live cross from the studio. This award put Sir Ed alongside Winston Churchill, Helen Keller and Sammy Davis Jr, former recipients of this award.
In this Good Day interview, Alison Parr talks to Sir Edmund Hillary as he discusses From the Ocean to the Sky, a book about his 1977 jet boat mission up India's holy river, The Ganges. A reflective Sir Ed talks adventure, spirituality and his 'escapist' relationship with Nepal; and Parr probes him on his reluctance to include single women on expeditions. On a more outspoken note, he expresses his dismay at a lack of "positive, inspirational leadership" in contemporary NZ in what is arguably a barely disguised attack on the style of Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.
In this Nepal-filmed interview for the 70s current affairs show Sir Ed discusses his aid missions in the country and his friendship with its people. The famed explorer talks about the pros and cons of Western influence on Nepal, and visits schools and hospitals he helped to establish. While local Sherpas struggle with iodine deficiencies, western tourists and mountaineers battle altitude sickness. Produced by Mike Gill, the interview includes material on the creation of Sagarmatha National Park, established in 1976 with help from the New Zealand Government.
This NFU documentary chronicles a major milestone in NZ's presence in Antarctica: the building of Scott Base. Members of the Commonwealth Polar Expedition leave Wellington in December 1956, and sail through storms and pack ice. Led by Sir Edmund Hillary, they construct Scott Base, meet some local wildlife and begin preparations to support a British team led by Doctor Vivian Fuchs. After wintering over, Hillary would, in January 1958, controversially reach the South Pole before Fuchs — only the third party after Scott and Amundsen to do so overland.
In this 1956 reel, Sir Edmund Hillary and colleagues describe their mission to set up bases in advance of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ed meets Everest mate George Lowe in Uruguay to board The Theron, and they smash and use explosives to blast their way through ice, then unload supplies (including the soon-to-be-famous Ferguson tractors). Sections of the footage were shot on 16mm film by Hillary himself. Lt Commander Bill Smith and Dr Trevor Hatherton narrate pathfinding with sledges in McMurdo Sound, on the other side of the continent.
New Zealand's relationship with Antarctica and the explorers and scientists who went there is the focus of this episode in The Years Back series, with Bernard Kearns as guide. Early last century NZ was the starting point for most polar expeditions, including Robert Falcon Scott's fatal attempt to reach the Pole. Footage of Scott on the ice is featured, and as well as clips of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival tale. Of course the Sir Edmund Hillary-led 50s Kiwi expedition is shown: Hillary made a defiant dash for the Pole on tractors, arriving 4 January 1958.
In this November 1955 newsreel, Sir Edmund Hillary addresses 2000 Wellington school children, as part of a pitch to win support for an Antarctic expedition. Ed shakes hands with pint-sized fundraisers, and one of his crew models Kiwi-made cold weather gear. The voiceover mentions a "New Zealand Antarctic expedition", but Hillary's team would actually form half of a Commonwealth team, led by UK explorer Vivian Fuchs. After leaving supplies for the British crossing party, Hillary controversially went on ahead to the South Pole. Both BP and the NFU filmed the expedition.
Popular consumer affairs show Fair Go is one of New Zealand TV's longest-running series. In this episode reporter Phil Vine investigates Pure Air Ventilation: a "slippery snake" with a string of unhappy customers from Thames to Tokoroa. As burnt customer Belinda Muir says "I hate being taken for an idiot!" A showdown with the touters ensues. There's a classic spoof from the Fair Go archives, looking at "lawn aerator sandals" and featuring Helen Clark, Peter Dunne, Ed Hillary and Spiderman endorsing the jandals-meets-crampons product. Contact Fair Go here.