Sir Edmund Hillary conquered not just Everest, (with local expedition guide Tenzing Norgay, pictured here) but also the 2,525 kilometre-long Ganges river and the mountain at its source

Celebrating his greatest adventure

by Andy Bryenton

We all know that Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to scale Everest and that he traversed the icy wastes of Antarctica by tractor. The adventure he calls his greatest ever has now been made into a feature film, Ocean to Sky. It follows his 1977 voyage from the mouth of the Ganges river to the top of the previously unscaled Akash Parbat.

“It was a sort of dream that Ed had had for a long time: the idea of going all the way up a river from the ocean and finishing up on the top of a mountain,” said fellow adventurer Graeme Dingle. “It was quite an appealing sort of idea, and I think when he suddenly realised that he could do it in an indigenous New Zealand machine (the jet boat) that it really struck on.”

Perhaps this was because the jet boat, developed by Kiwi genius Bill Hamilton, allowed access to places that a conventional craft could not go. Sir Ed wanted to not only trace the holy river to its source but to meet the people along the way and document on film the grand and rugged landscape through which it flows.

A boat with a prop would likely get stuck in the rapids and gorges of the upper Ganges; the jet boat, with its innovative system, was a revolution in ‘77. This adventure proved that it was tough, clever and fit for purpose.

Those are words that could describe the character of Sir Ed himself on this epic journey, made more poignant as it was, for him, a pilgrimage to commemorate the death of his wife and daughter in an aeroplane crash.

The expedition faced altitude sickness, tigers, raging rapids and more before forging onward. Director Michael Dillon captures it all, including interviews with contemporaries and fellow adventurers, in a motion picture that highlights not just a grand tale of exploration and international cultural understanding, but also the coming of age of the jet boat as a classic Kiwi invention.