NZ Firsts: First to climb Mt Everest

New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest – the highest mountain in the world. His face marks the NZ$5 note.

Sir Edmund Hillary was the self-proclaimed ‘ordinary’ Kiwi who achieved the extraordinary by conquering Mount Everest.

Hillary and his guide, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, reached the summit of the highest mountain on earth on June 2, 1953, the day Queen Elizabeth was crowned.

The duo’s success – proclaimed as “a magnificent coronation present” when announced to cheering crowds outside Wellington’s parliament – rocketed Hillary, once an unknown beekeeper, to instant worldwide fame.

But the hero had a far more down-to-earth way of describing the pair’s achievement: “We knocked the bastard off,” he told fellow climbers on their descent from the peak.

Sir Edmund Hillary was born in 1919 and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. It was in New Zealand that he became interested in mountain climbing. Although he made his living as a beekeeper, he climbed mountains in New Zealand, then in the Alps, and finally in the Himalayas, where he climbed 11 different peaks of over 20,000 feet. By this time, Hillary was ready to confront the world’s highest mountain.

After his initial conquering of the top of the world he went on to spend several years in that country helping the local people with his humanitarian efforts.

Sir Edmund was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century. He died at home in New Zealand at the age of 88, mourned by his countrymen and by legions of admirers around the world.