Sir Edmund Hillary became one of the world’s most famous explorers, but his mountaineering days began on the slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook in New Zealand - and now visitors to the area can share the passage of his long and brilliant career.
Since opening in 2008, a purpose-built entertainment and education centre with a planetarium, museum, stargazing deck and Hillary Gallery has become a key destination for visitors to the South Island.
The NZ$7.5 million Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, adjoining the iconic Hermitage Hotel, attracts visitors of all ages keen to pay tribute to the legendary Kiwi who was a friend and mentor to many, humanitarian, ambassador and one of New Zealand’s most famous sons.
Aoraki Mount Cook
At 3754m, Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain and provided Sir Edmund Hillary with the first major climb of his career.
The ascent of Mount Cook’s difficult south face was Hillary’s first great mountaineering achievement, and also became the training ground for his Everest and Antarctic expeditions.
Sir Edmund continued to spend a much of his time in the Mount Cook region and his death was considered a great loss to the local community.
Visitors can now stand beside his statue on the Apline Centre’s Hillary Deck looking out to Aoraki Mount Cook where the famous mountaineer''s career began.
Floor to ceiling views
The Hillary Deck, café and bar with floor-to-ceiling views of Mount Cook provides a central hub for visitors to relax, enjoy the view, dine, have cocktails at sunset, or stargaze through powerful telescopes.
The Alpine Centre also features a dramatic 3D movie Mount Cook Magic, New Zealand’s first full dome digital planetarium, museum and Hillary Gallery.
Hillary was involved in the development of the centre before his death and recorded messages for visitors to watch as part of his legacy.
Centre staff and local residents say they are honoured to be able to celebrate his life on a daily basis by sharing his memories, achievements and legacy with those who come to visit.
Museum and Hillary Gallery
Together, the museum and gallery offer a unique and informative insight into the history of the Aoraki Mount Cook region, one of New Zealand’s most important spiritual, cultural and geographical places.
The museum showcases the area’s history through the key themes of transport, climbing and The Hermitage Hotel.
A special area is dedicated to the life and achievements of the nation’s most famous New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary, particularly his affiliation with Aoraki Mount Cook.
Mount Cook Magic 3D movie
Mount Cook Magic is a 3D cinematic experience that provides a dramatic journey over the majestic Southern Alps.
The 15-minute movie takes viewers on an exhilarating ‘ride’ from the mystical Ngai Tahu Māori creation legend of Aoraki Mount Cook to the skies above, soaring with kea mountain parrots over mountains and glaciers, skiing the Tasman Glacier, exploring crevasses and accompanying a climbing expedition.
Science and entertainment meet in a 360-degree cinema within New Zealand’s first full dome digital planetarium.
The Planetarium shows include:
- Mount Cook Space Traveller - a virtual tour deep into space visiting planets, stars and galaxies. Viewers leave Earth and fly to the edge of the solar system to see the southern night sky, including the Southern Cross, the iridescent Milky Way, inverted constellations and the clusters of galaxies beyond.
- Infinity Express explores the questions of: Where did it all begin? Is there life outside our own solar system? From the discoveries of early astronomers to today’s inventions and man’s ambition to explore beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, the movie shows dramatic scientific breakthroughs in the quest to understand the universe.
- Black Holes: Imagine a place where time stands still, where the unimaginable becomes reality. The world of Black Holes takes viewers on a trip through space as astronomers scanning the universe to find nature’s most bizarre creations.
Renowned for being one of New Zealand’s best stargazing spots, Aoraki Mount Cook is far from city lights and light pollution. The uninterrupted darkness provides visitors with an ideal opportunity to explore the skies with the help of expert astronomy guides. Powerful telescopes are available to allow a close look at the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s moons, the Southern Cross, star clusters and distant galaxies.
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Video news release: Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919 - 2008