He admitted to being the first man atop Everest only long after the death of climbing companion Norgay.
After Everest, Hillary led a number of expeditions to the South Pole and the Himalayas, and devoted his time to helping Nepal's Sherpa people who live in the shadow of Everest.
His Himalaya Trust raised about $250,000 a year and he personally helped build schools, hospitals, bridges, pipelines and even an airfield.
"Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities," Helen Clark, New Zealand's prime minister, said on Friday in announcing his death.
"In reality, he was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility, and generosity.
"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived," she added.