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 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.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey, Paul Henry brings his straight-talking style to Tibet. Entering Tibet after three days in Kathmandu, Henry encounters dodgy plumbing and the occasional surveillance camera, though he finds a certain romance in the dirt. Henry makes no effort to hide his feelings on yak butter tea, fights altitude sickness en route to Mount Everest base camp, and visits Potala Palace — ex home to the Dalai Lama, now "a mausoleum to old Tibet". For Henry, now is the best time to visit, because "Tibet is being snuffed out. This is just going to be another corner of China."
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".
In the show's first visit to Nepal, Shortland Street actor Craig Parker sets off backpacking for the very first time, armed with good advice - to switch off the judgmental Western part of his mind. His destination is a country on the slopes of the Himalayas: half the size of New Zealand, home to 20 languages and 24 million people. Along the way Parker experiences a limb-stretching Nepalese barber, witnesses the funeral pyres at a Hindu temple, and tramps along the Helambu trek, which takes him to the same altitude as Aoraki-Mount Cook.
With The Free Man, genre-hopping director Toa Fraser (The Dead Lands) takes on the world of extreme sport. The globetrotting documentary is built around encounters between Kiwi freestyle skier Jossi Wells and The Flying Frenchies, known for their base jumps, wingsuit flying and tightrope walks at terrifying heights. As Wells gets direct experience in the art of walking a highline, director Fraser investigates what adrenaline junkies gain — and lose — when putting their lives on the line. The Free Man got its Kiwi premiere during the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
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".
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.
This edition of the 1976 adventure series documents a pioneering attempt to fly over Aoraki-Mount Cook by hot air balloon. RNZAF squadron leader Roly Parsons had made the first balloon crossing of Cook Strait the previous year. Director Pamela Meekings-Stewart captures his preparations to take on perilous winds and high altitudes. A first attempt with newbie co-pilot Rolf Dennler sets an altitude record, but crashes near Fox Glacier township, before Parsons pulls on his gold flight jacket for a final attempt at the challenge. Julian Dickon (Pukemanu) wrote the script.
This National Film Unit short captures the action with the RNZAF’s 75 Squadron aerobatic team. The pilots, all in their early to late 20s, fly their de Havilland Vampire jets through low and high altitude manoeuvres. NFU cameraman John Hutchinson squeezed himself and his camera into the cockpit for 14 flights over five days, to capture spectacular images from a fifth Vampire piloted by Flight Lieutenant Barry Gordon. The team was formed in 1958 for the RNZAF's 21st Anniversary Air show at Ohakea. It then toured New Zealand, giving displays at all the major airports.