Widely respected mountaineer Athol Whimp fell to his death while climbing in Fiordland on Thursday.

Fellow climber Andrew Lindblade said his friend was determined and driven, but also compassionate and caring.

Whimp, 50, who had lived in Australia for many years and maintained a high-rise building in Melbourne, ticked off peaks around the world, including the second-only solo journey up Cerro Torre in Patagonia.

He was hugely respected in the international climbing community as a safe, able climber who loved being close to nature, Lindblade said.

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"He loved pushing his mind and body against what was possible. He was aware of the risks, but he would never let it prevent him doing what he wanted to do."

Constable James Ure, of Te Anau, said Whimp was coming down the Homer Ridge with two others when he slipped and fell 800m on to a granite ledge. His death has been referred to the coroner.

Whimp's brother Bernard said messages were pouring into the family home near Rangiora, where he will be farewelled by his mother, four siblings, and extended family and friends this week.