Sarah Hillary, The Daily Telegraph, May 28, 2013
The Hillary Trail, which opened three years ago in my father’s memory, threads through a part of the world my family has known for generations.
I have been going to the area, along the wild coast of the Waitakere Ranges, not far west of Auckland, for as long as I can remember. My early memories are of sitting by the fire in our old family beach house, listening to stories as the wind howled outside and rattled the corrugated-iron roof alarmingly.
That was on land belonging to my maternal grandfather, Jim Rose. It is a unique place, amid huge swathes of native bush. Being an outdoors man – he was president of the New Zealand Alpine Club, which is how he and my father met – my grandfather loved it. In the Twenties, he bought this remote stretch of headland reaching up to a very basic road used by bullocks and carts.
My father, Ed, started coming after he met my mother and loved it too. It was an ideal holiday for him, a place where he could switch off and take refuge from the attention that followed his conquest of Mount Everest. One photo epitomises it for me: that of him outside on the deck with a cup of tea looking very casual, the sea and the cliffs in the distance below (see below).
When my grandparents subdivided the land between their daughters, Ed helped design and build the holiday house we still use. In the old days it was only lit by candles, and there is still no mains electricity, although we have solar power now. We have never had a television there. Why on earth would you? My father used to do a lot of writing and expedition planning out there and when we had overseas guests, they would go to the beach house. Tenzing Norgay and his wife visited when they came to New Zealand more than 40 years ago.
My father’s favourite part of the coastline was the wonderfully remote stretch between Whites and Anawhata beaches. A favourite family outing was to walk along the Kuataika Track and down the Anawhata Stream to the beach. There was hardly a track of any description. I remember one time, my father skipping from boulder to boulder in a brand new pair of beige walking boots, determined to keep his feet dry, as he always was. My grandfather was marching straight through the water, and told him he should surrender to the river, that it was going to get him in the end. And it did. Ed slipped on a rock, and those beautiful beige boots were waterlogged.
There’s also another story that my father sent the telegram to announce his conquest of Everest to Piha, the nearest place to our holiday home, rather than to Auckland. It’s possible although I’m not sure it’s true. My parents weren’t married then and my mother was studying music in Sydney, but he may have sent the telegram to my grandfather, who was often out there.
Sixty years on from that expedition, I feel honoured that people are still celebrating its achievements. Everest may have changed a lot. It doesn’t sound like a very pleasurable experience queuing to get to the top now, and I find it distressing to hear there are too many people up there. I do hope the Nepalese government succeeds in encouraging people to explore other parts of the country and try other mountains. But Ed always said his greatest legacy was his work in Nepal with the Himalayan Trust, and I am delighted that is still going. Good things continue to come from his name and the things that he did, and that includes the Hillary Trail, which opened on the anniversary of his death in 2010.
My grandfather had dreamed of the day when people would be able to walk from Huia to Muriwai through native forest and along the rugged coast like the Maori did in the past, which is possible now on the trail. There used to be several disconnected tracks, and I had walked some before but I’ve been able to see more since. I belong to various informal running groups, and I ran half the trail for an event marking its opening. The Huia Road Bush Runners also always organise a run for the anniversary of my father’s death, and one year was particularly memorable. It was pouring with rain as I went along Hamilton Track through the kauri trees, and I nearly disappeared in the mud it was so deep. I was drenched, but it was exhilarating. Another of the many highlights for me is the Te Henga Walkway, which is steep, wild and very beautiful, skirting the cliff between two beaches.
My three-year-old grandson already loves the area. He always says he wants to go to the “red house”, as he calls our holiday home. My youngest grandchild was only born a few weeks ago, so we haven’t had the chance to take her out there yet – but it won’t be long before we do.
Sarah Hillary was talking to Jolyon Attwooll
The Hillary Trail is a four-day walking path. It is described as “a challenging wilderness adventure designed to introduce families and young people to the joys of multi-day tramping (trekking)”. It starts at Arataki Visitor Centre, and goes through the Waitakere Ranges and along Auckland’s west coast beaches. Campsites should be booked. See the Auckland Council website for more information, regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/articles/hillary-trail .
More ways to follow in Hillary’s footsteps
At 3,754m, Aoraki Mount Cook on the South Island is New Zealand’s highest mountain and the ascent of its difficult south face was Hillary’s first great mountaineering achievement. It was also the training ground for his Everest and Antarctic expeditions.
Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
Sir Edmund Hillary’s mountaineering days began on the slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook in the South Island, and visitors to the area can find out more about his long, brilliant career here. It includes an entertainment and education centre with a planetarium, museum, stargazing deck and a gallery.
See hillarycentre.co.nz .
Auckland Museum exhibition
An exhibition 'From the Summit – Hillary’s Enduring Legacy’ will show at Auckland Museum until September 29. See aucklandmuseum.com for more information.