Helen Clark, New Zealand's prime minister, was among the 600 guests who joined Hillary's widow, Jane, and his mountaineer son, Peter, at the service.


In video

Thousands pay tribute
to New Zealand's hero

High-level representatives from Australia, Britain, Canada, India, Ireland and the United States also attended the funeral.


Peter, who has twice climbed Everest, said his father "was a real people's hero" and that helping the Nepali people "really was the great calling of my father's life".


Hillary, who died of a heart attack on January 11 at the age of 88, reached the 8,848-metre summit of Mount Everest together with his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953.


Nation in mourning


Thousands watched the funeral on big screens
around the country [GALLO/GETTY]
Family members of Norgay - who died in 1986 - and four surviving members of the 14-strong Mount Everest climbing team also attended the funeral.


After the historic climb and more adventures in the Himalayas and Antarctica, Hillary devoted much of the rest of his life to building schools and hospitals for Nepal's Sherpa community living in the shadows of Everest.


At the funeral service, Clark said the former beekeeper's humility and can-do attitude were an inspiration to generations of New Zealanders.

She said that although Hillary, fondly known as "Sir Ed" following his 1953 knighthood, described himself as a person of modest abilities, he was the "most famous New Zealander of our times" who "brought fame to our country".


"But above all we loved Sir Ed for what he represented, a determination to succeed against the odds, humility and an innate sense of fair play and a tremendous sense of service to the community at home and abroad."