Edmund Hillary

Page 5 – Honouring Edmund Hillary

In 1987 Ed Hillary was among the first 20 people selected as members of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ), this country’s highest honour. In 1995 he was appointed to Britain’s oldest and highest order of chivalry, being made Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (KG). This order, founded in 1348, is limited to 26 living people (including the Queen and the Prince of Wales). Hillary's appointment was unique as he was the first non-Briton to be appointed KG for other than viceregal or political achievements.

In 1990 Hillary was one of four New Zealanders – and the only living person – selected to appear on the nation’s new banknotes. His weather-beaten smiling face is instantly recognisable on the $5 note, alongside images of Aoraki/Mt Cook and a Ferguson tractor.

He has also been commemorated in the names of various schools and organisations, including Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate (Otara), the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (Tongariro National Park) and the Hillary Commission (now SPARC). The street outside the New Zealand High Commission in New Delhi was named in his honour. Other awards ranged from a medal produced by the Kathmandu Taxi Drivers’ Association to the Hubbard Medal of the United States National Geographical Society and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

The 50th anniversary of the Everest climb in 2003 brought further recognition, including honorary citizenship of Nepal, conferred at a special ceremony in Kathmandu, and the unveiling of a bronze statue outside The Hermitage, Mt Cook. More than 50,000 people in Auckland and 80,000 in America viewed a museum exhibition on Hillary’s life. 

Hillary visited Scott Base, Antarctica, in 2004 and again in January 2007. On the latter occasion, despite frail health, he travelled with a delegation that included Prime Minister Helen Clark to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the base.

In 2008 New Zealand Post issued a Sir Edmund Hillary commemorative five-stamp series to honour his 'status and achievements as a New Zealand hero'.

Despite his remarkable achievements as a mountaineer, adventurer, diplomat and philanthropist, Ed Hillary is perhaps best remembered for his humility and generosity. His own assessment of his life on his 85th birthday was typically modest: ‘What a fortunate person I have been!’

How to cite this page

'Honouring Edmund Hillary', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/edmund-hillary/honouring-hillary, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2016