Mount Everest conqueror and Antarctic explorer New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary has returned to the frozen continent, at age 87, for what he believes will be his last time.
Sir Edmund joined New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and other dignitaries who flew last week to Antarctica for the 50th anniversary of the Scott Base, which the adventurer helped to build in 1957. "This is probably the last opportunity that I will get to visit the wintery south," Hillary said. Sir Edmund first visited Antarctica as part of the 1955/1958 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His task at that time was to lead a support team that would bring fuel and food supplies to help British explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs in his planned crossing of the frozen continent. Dubbed the Ross Sea party, Hillary's team left Wellington, NZ on December 21, 1956 aboard the HMNZA Endeavour. Once in Antarctica, Sir Edmund's team established the now 50-year-old Scott Base, the rudimentary shelter that is still in use. On October 14, 1957 the famous New Zealander and his companions set off from the base with loads of cargo and three tractors, eventually reaching the South Pole, ahead of Fuchs, on January 4, 1958. "New Zealand has a special relationship with Antarctica," said Prime Minster Clark. "Its proximity to us means that our country was closely involved in a number of the earliest Antarctic expeditions, such as those of Scott and Shackleton." "In the 50 years since Sr. Edmund's team established Scott Base" she added, "New Zealanders have played an important role in exploration and science in Antarctica, and there have been many achievements." The Antarctic experience came two years after Sir Edmund and sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to climb Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak. Sir Edmund last visited Antarctica two years ago. "I was always prepared to come back one more time" said Sir Edmund, whose comments were reported by New Zealand media travelling with the anniversary delegation. "I don't think it'll ever happen again, but this is a marvellous return". Sir Edmund took time to criticize Japan for its policies allowing whaling for scientific purposes, and for pushing to revoke the international ban on commercial hunting. The Japanese whale hunting season began recently in waters at the far south of the world. "They just don't seem to have accepted that these creatures, wonderful creatures that they are, should be carefully protected," Hillary said. Though he was not the first to explore Antarctica, Sir Edmund does have a related claim to fame. In 1985 he and U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon, travelled to the North Pole, a trip that secured Hillary's claim as the only person ever to have stood atop both poles and Mount Everest. However Sir Edmund will for ever be associated with Mount Everest which he conquered together with sherpa Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953.