Hillary's first mountain could take name

By Jarrod Booker

A proposal to rename the mountain that was the site of Sir Edmund Hillary's first real climb is gaining some support.

But there are also calls for any gesture to honour the great mountaineer to be carefully considered alongside all other options, including our highest peak, Aoraki-Mount Cook.

Mount Ollivier, in the Mount Cook National Park, provided Sir Edmund's first real taste of mountaineering in 1939 and he later described it as the happiest day of his life.

A proposal has been put forward by Mount Cook's Hermitage hotel and Alpine Guides to rename Mount Ollivier to Mount Sir Edmund Hillary or Mount Hillary.

A separate move is also under way to rename the nearby Mueller Hut opened by Sir Edmund in 2003, as "Ed's shed".

The initial decision on whether to rename the mountain will fall to the New Zealand Geographic Board, which assigns place names for natural features. Board secretary Wendy Shaw told the Herald: "Under international place naming practice it is usual to observe a period of time before naming features after people who have died".

"The board would consider any submission that seek to honour the late Sir Edmund Hillary.

Importance needs to be placed on finding the right feature, and one that would be widely supported by New Zealanders, including the Hillary family."

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Helen Clark said it was too early to consider any proposals to honour Sir Edmund and the focus for now was on ensuring a fitting state funeral for him.

Sir Edmund's first encounter with Mt Ollivier occurred when he was holidaying in the South Island and spent two days at the Mount Cook village.

Sir Edmund and a friend hired a guide and climbed the 1933m peak in the Seally Range beyond Mueller Hut.

It was his first real mountain.

"I returned to the Hermitage after the happiest day I had ever spent," he later wrote.

"And now, after several decades of exploration, I still remember the intense pleasure of that day. Despite all I have seen and experienced, I still get the same simple thrill out of glimpsing a tiny patch of snow in a high mountain gully and feel the same urge to climb towards it."

Mike Browne, president of the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association, said his personal view was Mt Ollivier was a "significant peak for Sir Ed", and renaming it appeared to be an appropriate gesture.

New Zealand Alpine Club president Phil Doole said it was a good idea in principle, but it needed to be handled carefully so the history of the original name was not trampled over.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu kaiwhakahaere Mark Solomon said he would not support any name changes to Aoraki-Mt Cook as it was bound up in the tribe's identity which is why it was a key part of the tribe's Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

"It's not an icon to us, it's our tupuna [ancestral] maunga," Mr Solomon said.

However, he did not rule out changes, saying it would depend on which mountain was picked.

However, (regional runanga) Arowhenua leader and Kati Huirapa kaumatua Te Ao Waaka, 75, was against any name changes and questioned the reason for the hotel's involvement in the proposal.

"It's about money not mana. They've got a statue on the front lawn and that draws people. I think it's a commercial decision."


Two Antarctic features are already named after Sir Edmund Hillary.

* The Hillary Coast is formally recognised by New Zealand, the United States of America and Russia. It is south of Ross Island and north of the Shackleton Coast.

* The Hillary Canyon, an undersea feature in the Ross Sea, is named in the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, which is the International Hydrographic Office's gazetteer.

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