Key Points:

Sir Edmund Hillary's widow Lady June was "blown away" by the public response to his state funeral today, Prime Minister Helen Clark has said.

Miss Clark said she had been with the Hillary family when they went to the ceremony at St Mary's Church in Parnell and later the private cremation and service at Purewa.

"I travelled with Lady Hillary all the way to Purewa, the last resting place for Sir Ed, and she was just blown away by the public outpouring of affection," Helen Clark told Radio New Zealand.

"She was very touched by the respect and love that poured out from everybody."

"I think everyone was feeling this was going to be a momentous day for all of them."

The official ceremony at St Mary's was notable for its emphasis on Sir Edmund as friend, father and "ordinary New Zealander", rather than as a national icon.

Tributes by Sir Edmund's children Sarah and Peter Hillary recalled family holidays and the mountaineer's "dry wit" while close friend Jim Wilson touched on his singing "ability".

Norbu Tenzing Norgay - son of Tenzing Norgay who climbed Everest with Sir Edmund - said: "When Sherpas heard of [Sir Edmund's] death their grief spiralled to a level only matched by the loss of a parent."

Chief administrative officer of the Himalayan Trust Ang Rita Sherpa described Sir Edmund as "our second father".

"His loss to us is bigger and heavier than Mt Everest," he said.

As the funeral was broadcast to thousands watching public screens throughout the country, Prime Minister Helen Clark thanked the Hillary family for "their willingness to share this last farewell with us all".

At the Auckland Domain, many in the 3000-strong crowd cried openly when Sir Edmund's grandson Sam Mulgrew's voice cracked at the end of his eulogy.

There were tears and laughter as some of the speakers told lighter stories of life with Sir Edmund.

In her eulogy, Sarah Hillary spoke of how as a 10-year-old she went with the family to Nepal.

She said she was struck by the "strangeness of it all" but the friendship the Nepalese people had for Sir Edmund was extended to the family as well.

She recalled seeing all the work that had been performed by Hillary's Himilaya Trust, building landing strips, schools, bridges and tree planting for regeneration.

People he had worked with would become friends, she recalled. But, she warned, people had to have a sense of humour.

"Ed loved to laugh and his dry wit was irresistible."

She described Sir Edmund's organisation and meticulous planning for all his travels.

But she also said that his adventures posed a difficulty for her when she went to primary school.

"Asked what my father did as a job, I was unable to find an answer," she said.

Poignantly, she recalled the tragic plane crash in which her mother, Sir Edmund's wife Louise, and youngest daughter Belinda were killed in Nepal.

She said that she saw how the blow sapped the life from him "and he collapsed" but his energy, determination and the support and love of friends pulled him back.

By the end of his life, Sarah said that he was happy, relaxed and was able to say that he "had a good life".

Peter Hillary told the congregation that "adventure was compulsory in the curriculum of the Hillary family.

"Growing up, There was a growing apprehension, even fear, about where Dad was going to take us in the upcoming holidays.

"He took us to the most amazing places."

He recalled being taken to Darjeeling, living in Chicago, road-tripping to Canada and Alaska and shared memories of holidays in Wanaka.

He shared an anecdote about going on a climbing expedition as a child. "I knew it was OK because I was with Sir Ed Hillary."

He lost his footing and fell, but was quickly sprung back up on a rope. "It was really like the first bungee jump ever."

Sir Edmund's grandson Sam Mulgrew spoke after Peter Hillary, saying it was "an honour and a privilege" to have known his grandfather so well.

He revealed that in Sir Ed's final days in hospital he had the cover name, Vincent Stardust, which the 88-year-old found amusing. "He laughed, with a glint in his eye."

Mr Mulgrew said Sir Edmund was a real family man.

"Throughout my whole life, even up to a couple of weeks ago at Christmas, there was nothing he liked more than having a gang of people around him, having a good time."

"The word modest has always been used to describe him... He practised what he preached and was the very embodiment of the word."

"Ed it was an honour and a privilege to have known you so well, the many hours that we have spent together will remain with me for the rest of time," he said.

Tenzing Norgay's son - Norbu Tenzing Norgay - said: "Sir Ed opened our eyes to a world of possibilities."

"He epitomised the true meaning of giving and never asked for anything in return. His love and dedication to the Sherpas was like that of a parent to a child; absolutely unconditional."

Sir Edmund's coffin was draped in the New Zealand flag and Sherpas covered it in Nepalese khadas - Buddhist prayer scarves - with his climbing axe and a carved walking stick atop.

After the funeral, Mr Norgay told he "wouldn't have missed today for the world".

"It's a very happy day, and a very sad day," he said. "What a life."

Mr Norgay said the stories told at the service brought back a flood of memories from his childhood.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said that in climbing Mount Everest Sir Edmund went to a place no man had gone before.

In a moving eulogy she said the ascent of Everest in 1953 was one of the defining moments of the twentieth century.

But the man who conquered the world's highest peak, endeared himself to New Zealanders with his pragmatism, humility and can-do spirit.

Helen Clark said Sir Edmund's "can do" attitude made him "an inspiration and role model to generations".

"We mourn as a nation because we know we're saying goodbye to a friend," she said. "He was a central part of our New Zealand family."

"How privileged we were to have that living legend with us for 88 years."

Norbu Tenzing Norgay said Sir Edmund would be dearly missed.

While he felt there could not have been two better people to have conquered Everest, Sir Edmund and Tenzig Norgay's work for the Sherpas after that great day had left as big a mark.

Students from schools set up by Sir Ed had gone on to be airline pilots and eminent conservationists, he said.

"Among Sherpas he was revered."

Sherpas placed his photo alongside those of their religious leaders, he said.

Long-time friend Jim Wilson touched on Sir Ed's singing "ability" .

Sir Ed would accept nothing less than the best from his companions, but was able to accept failure if they gave their best, Mr Wilson said.

He recalled once sinking one of Sir Ed's two jetboats on an expedition in Nepal, nearly drowning a Sherpa.

When he slunk back to apologise , he was surprised when Sir Ed did not rip him apart, as he had feared.

"'C'est la vie,' is all he said, not a word of reproach," Mr Wilson said.

"His little boy enthusiasm for life and adventure was irresistible, he loved to laugh, even if it was at his own expense."

The service

Sir Edmund's casket was carried the short distance from the cathedral to St Mary's church by six pall bearers from the navy, army and air force just before 9am.

The cathedral doors were closed about an hour earlier with last minute well-wishers turned away.

The formal start of Sir Edmund's funeral was marked by the tolling of the bellfrom the ship HMNZS Endeavour, which took him to Antarctica in 1956 to set up Scott Base.

Bishop Paterson began the service by welcoming those in attendance, telling Lady June and her family they had been "gracious" in allowing all New Zealanders to share in the celebration of Sir Edmund's life.

He followed his welcome with a prayer before Dame Malvina Major began singing How Great Thou Art.

After a reading from The Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter three verses one to eight, by Governor General Anand Satyanand, the choir of the Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity performed a song.

Larry Witherbee read from Matthew 5:5 - "Blessed Are The Meek" - before the church echoed to the hymn The Lord is My Shepherd.

Mr Witherbee is president of the Himalayan Trust and was a great friend of Sir Ed.

The congregation at St Mary's and New Zealanders watching broadcasts around the country heard a series of moving eulogies by family, dignitaries and friends during the service.

Across New Zealand, flags fluttered at half-mast.

Lady June was seated next to her daughter Sarah and Helen Clark at the front of the cathedral alongside the Governor General and Sir Edmund's extended family.

Tibetan monks sat alongside local dignitaries, politicians, military officials and Sir Edmunds' personal friends.

Former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, speaker of the house Margaret Wilson and deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen were all in attendance, as was Tenzing Norgay's son Norbu Tenzing Norgay.

Sir Edmund's funeral concluded with a blessing following the National Anthem and prayers from the Dean of Christchurch Peter Beck and Bishop of Auckland John Paterson.

Funeral cortege

Members of the armed forces carried Sir Edmund's casket out of St Mary's under an archway of icepicks as a lone piper played Abide with Me.

Dozens of Hillary College students performed a rousing haka as the casket passed into the courtyard of Holy Trinity Cathedral, where it was placed in the hearse.

Entitled He Maunga Teitei - The Lofty Mountain - the translated words of the haka read: "Look towards the far horizons people of the world. Mourn for the mighty kauri has fallen. He has gone, but his legacy lives on. A lofty mountain who never bowed."

More than 1000 people lined the route of Sir Edmund's funeral cortege along Khyber Pass Rd to Newmarket, Auckland, on the way to a private cremation at Purewa Cemetery after the ceremony.

Most huddled under shelters against the rain, waiting patiently for the hearse to pass.

As the hearse went through Auckland's Domain in a 10 vehicle procession, hundreds of people applauded. Dave Dobbyn's Loyal played over a PA system.

Spontaneous clapping also broke out among the crowds lining Broadway and Remuera Road.

Crowds in the middle of Newmarket - where the shops closed out of respect for Sir Edmund - stood four to five deep watching the passing funeral cortege.

Bars closed their doors as a mark of respect and punters came out onto the streets to watch the hearse.

The ashes of Sir Edmund Hillary may be scattered on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf from the sail training ship, the Spirit of New Zealand.

After Sir Edmund's state funeral in Auckland today the Spirit of Adventure Trust confirmed Sir Edmund's family favoured the idea.

"They thought it was a lovely idea," said chief executive John Lister.

"If we are asked to it would be our honour to do so," he said.

The ashes may be scattered about the middle of next month when the ship returns to Auckland with a full load of youths under sail training.

Mr Lister said the young girls and boys on the ship would be part of any ceremony.

"It would be just the way he would have wanted."

In his book View From the Summit, published nearly 10 years ago Sir Edmund said he had never had any desire to end his days at the bottom of a crevasse on a mountain.

"I've been down too many of them for that to have much appeal."

He said he wanted to die peacefully and "like my ashes spread on the beautiful waters of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf to be washed gently ashore maybe on the many pleasant beaches near the place where I was born.

"Then the full circle of my life will be complete."

Asked on Radio New Zealand tonight about the suggestions that had been made for a way to commemorate Sir Edmund - Helen Clark repeated her previous comment that he had wanted his work through the Himalayan Trust to live on.

"I'm mindful that in 2003, when we were preparing for the 50th anniversary, it was made known to me and the Government that that was what Sir Ed really wanted," she said.

"At this time, my thoughts are tending in that direction again. We will want to have discussions with the family about that."

Nationwide broadcasts

Thousands had watched the ceremony live on television, or on outdoor screens set up in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

Coverage of the funeral of the climber, explorer and diplomat was also beamed around the world, going to Scott Base in Antarctica and to Nepal TV by satellite link.

Herald reporter Stuart Dye earlier described the mood at Auckland's Domain as sombre but said there was no sense of sadness, with people smiling a lot.

Many were reminiscing of learning about Sir Edmund at school, of how he came to be on the New Zealand banknotes, and other stories.

People of all ages and from all walks of life spread out from the entrance to the museum over several hundred metres.

During a break in the rain, in a very emotional scene, the people present stood and sang the National Anthem as one.

Few people left despite the bad weather, instead choosing to stay and watch Sir Edmund's coffin leaving the church.

At the Viaduct, many in the crowd watching the funeral on big screens were tourists from the surrounding hotels and cruise ships in Auckland.

About 200 people gathered in the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine centre in the Mt Cook Village, where the great climbing career of Sir Edmund began, to farewell the great man.

Climbers and guides, who considered him a friend and mentor, were among those who gathered for the service which included a Buddhist prayer by local sherpas Thurenje and his wife Tshering Sherpa.

Heavy rain and low cloud shrouded the mountain and blocked the view of Mt Cook, forcing the service indoors, but speakers described the conditions as "fitting", calling the rain "tears from heaven".

Alpine Guides Director Bryan Carter said, "it was important for the mountaineering community together for their own service, when so many in the area felt a personal connection to Sir Edmund.

More than 300 people watched the service on large screens at the Wellington Town Hall on a windy but sunny day.

As they waited for the funeral to begin, the atmosphere was warm with occasional laughs at the lighter comments from TVNZ's Mark Sainsbury and Simon Dallow beamed live on the screen.

The crowd began to swell as people took time from lunch.

There was much laughter at the anecdotes told by Sir Edmund's son, Peter Hillary, about life in the Hillary household and growing up with a man revered and recognised around the world.

Crowds arrived in Christchurch's Cathedral Square for the memorial service which was being relayed on a screen outside. Roads were closed around the square.