Hillary leads New Zealand party to South Pole

4 January 1958

Sir Edmund Hillary bound for Cape Crozier, c. 1956–58 (Antarctic New Zealand Pictorial Collection)

Sir Edmund Hillary’s New Zealand team became the first to reach the South Pole overland since Robert Falcon Scott in 1912, and the first to do so in motor vehicles.

The New Zealand contingent was part of a larger Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) led by British adventurer Vivian Fuchs, which planned to undertake the first crossing from one side of Antarctica to the other.

After helping establish Scott Base on Ross Island during the summer of 1957–58 (see 20 January), and laying food and fuel depots for Fuchs’ party, Hillary and his four-man team set out for the Pole on modified Massey Ferguson tractors. It was an arduous slog through snow ridges, soft snow and dangerous crevasses, but Hillary reached the Pole 16 days ahead of Fuchs.

Hillary’s so-called ‘dash to the pole’ caused controversy as it took place without the express permission of the TAE, and against the instructions of the committee co-ordinating New Zealand’s contribution. While his devil-may-care approach appealed to many, some viewed it as an arrogant attempt to outplay Fuchs. The success of the venture, however, ultimately overshadowed any ill feeling.