Thursday 29 May 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre Officially Opens Today

The new Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre at Aoraki Mount Cook was today (Thursday 29 May) officially opened by Sir Edmund's widow, June, Lady Hillary Q.S.M.

The date holds particular significance as it also commemorates the 55th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary's first ascent of Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay as well as the 50th anniversary of the third Hermitage Hotel official opening.

Approximately 180 people attended the official opening, many of whom had personal ties with Sir Edmund. Speakers included Graeme Ayres, son of Sir Edmund's great friend Harry, who taught Sir Edmund the finer details of climbing and climbed extensively with him at Aoraki Mount Cook.

The audience enjoyed performances from Becky Murray, a young opera singer from Tekapo who sang a poem written especially for the occasion, and Mount Cook School children who performed the action song Aoraki E. A flypast to honour Sir Edmund Hillary's memory was performed by Mount Cook ski planes and a team of huskies (direct descendants from Sir Edmund's 1958 Antarctic Expedition) displayed their skills towing a vehicle.

Graeme Ayres spoke on behalf of Lady Hillary congratulating all those involved in creating a facility where the stories of the mountains could be told and celebrated.

"Aoraki Mount Cook is connected to the great and sacred mountains of the world through the high jet stream winds that circulate our planet, but even more so, Aoraki is connected to the mountains and people of the Himalaya and Antarctica through the spirit and achievements of one man - our own Sir Edmund Hillary."

"I want to acknowledge the efforts of the Aoraki Mount Cook Museum Trust and am all too aware of the frustration they went through in attempting to realise their dreams in the late 70s and early 80s so I say to them thank you for carrying the vision. To others, the Davies and Valentine families who had the commitment and to the Callesens who had the drive, congratulations. This combination of vision, commitment and drive are the same elements of achievement required when climbing, you have all climbed your own mountain and are standing at the top today."

Lady Hillary then unveiled the official plaque, which reads:

This plaque commemorates the official opening of the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and the 55th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary's first ascent of Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Opened by June, Lady Hillary Q.S.M. on Thursday 29 May 2008.

It pays tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary (20 July 1919 – 11 January 2008).

A friend and mentor to many, humanitarian, ambassador and one of the world's greatest explorers.

"A giant of a man who will always hold a very special place in our hearts.
May his legendary spirit and life's work live on through the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre."
From the community of Aoraki Mount Cook Village.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is jointly owned by the Valentine family of Dunedin and Trojan Holdings, owned by the Davies family of Queenstown. Trojan Holdings has a long association with tourism in New Zealand as owner of Ultimate Hikes and majority shareholder of NZSKI.

The visionary who drove the $7.5 million Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre project is Denis Callesen, General Manager of The Hermitage Hotel. Today Mr Davies recognised Mr Callesen's efforts by naming the theatre housed within the Centre the 'Denis Callesen Theatre'.

Mr Callesen said he was delighted to see the project come to fruition.

"This region and the people who have worked, lived or enjoyed recreational pursuits here have played a big part in New Zealand's pioneering history. I have heard many stories and been present for some major milestones so wanted to find a way to share these fascinating stories with others.

"Sir Edmund Hillary spent much time here climbing, socialising and training for various expeditions. Many of us were privileged to meet him and even become a friend.

"Sir Ed was involved in the project every step of the way and has also recorded messages for the Centre which visitors can watch. His passing was a huge loss so we are honoured to be able to celebrate his life on a daily basis by sharing his memories, achievements and legacy. We are proud to support the Himalayan Trust he founded which aids the Sherpa people of the Himalayas."

Designed to educate and entertain all ages, the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre takes visitors on the journey of a lifetime through a spectacular state-of-the-art 3D cinematic experience, New Zealand's first full dome digital planetarium, stargazing, museum and Hillary Gallery. It also houses a café and bar with spectacular floor to ceiling views of Aoraki Mount Cook. The café specialises in classic Kiwi fare with a modern twist, and from October the bar will offer guests Sacred Hill wine tastings and cocktails at sunset, a time honoured tradition at The Hermitage.

Visitors can gain unlimited access for a full day to planetarium screenings, the 'Mount Cook Magic' 3D movie and the Museum and Hillary Gallery with an Explorer Pass. Adult ticket prices are NZ$20 (16 years+) and all children (0–16) are free when accompanied by a paying adult.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is located adjacent to The Hermitage Hotel in Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, deep within the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and World Heritage area. The Village is a spectacular 55km drive from the Lake Pukaki / State Highway 8 turn-off and is four hours from Christchurch (272km) and three hours from Queenstown (330km),

For more information please visit

Book Your Travel with Wego