Descendants of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa visit tallest mountain in Aotearoa

Two sons of famed mountaineer Tenzing Norgay Sherpa have just visited New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook, where they were hosted by Ngāi Tahu.

Tenzing Norgay Sherpa famously accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary on the first successful summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Growing up with the legacy of this remarkable achievement, Everest and the Himalaya have been an intrinsic part of the brothers’ lives.

In recent years increasing numbers of tourists visiting Everest have led to mistreatment of the region’s indigenous people and environment, a challenge similarly faced in Aotearoa, as tourist numbers continue to climb. As part of their visit to Aotearoa, the brothers will share their knowledge with iwi throughout New Zealand and discuss both the challenges and opportunities that come with increases in tourism.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere (Board Chair) Lisa Tumahai says the Tenzing brothers’ perspectives and insights resonate deeply.

“Kaitiakitanga (stewardship), is one of our core values. This means that we have a responsibility, to our land and our people, to ensure that growth in tourism numbers is sustainable and respectful, and that our whenua is protected for us and our children after us. Maintaining and supporting growth in tourism is critical, but we must look after the land while doing it and work to mitigate the effects on the environment. That is one of the key tenets of the Ngāi Tahu Climate Change Strategy. The decisions we make now will impact on the lives of our mokopuna.”

Mrs Tumahai says there is much to learn from the Tenzing whānau.

“They have faced the same challenges that we are facing and have practicable solutions to the issues that come with growth. Hosting them at Aoraki, a place of immense significance to our iwi, is an honour.”

Norbu Tenzing is the Vice President of the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF), which supports education and healthcare initiatives and cultural and environment preservation in the Himalaya. He has worked to encourage tourism while mitigating the risks of what he refers to as the ‘business of Everest’.

“I always tell people, if you want to climb Everest, it’s like buying any product – make sure you know what you are buying. Just like you want to go to the store and buy organic vegetables, when you climb Everest, look into the eyes of a child with a father who is going up the mountain and say, ‘I’m going to take care of your father and I’m going to bring him back safe’.”

Norbu expresses admiration for the protection of the environment and its people that is inherent in Māori culture.

“The respect of Māori people for their ancestors and for their land is profound. The culture is strong, and more purposeful than anywhere else in the world that I have visited.”

Dhamey Tenzing Norgay is also experienced in adventure tourism and its effects. His company The Noble Traveller operates out of Bhutan, one of the world’s smallest countries. The country focuses on ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH)’ rather than GDP, with a ‘value over volume’ approach to their tourism.

During their time with Ngāi Tahu, the Tenzings visited Tuahiwi Marae in North Canterbury and Arowhenua Marae near Temuka. From there they traveled to Aoraki, a place of immense significance to Ngāi Tahu. Ngāi Tahu know Te Waipounamu as the waka that carried four sons of Raki, the sky father, to meet his second wife Papatūānuku, the earth mother. The sons journeyed from the heavens and when they sought to return, the karakia or incantation failed, over-turning their waka, which became the South Island. The brothers climbed on top and turned to stone and became the mountains that comprise the Southern Alps, including Aoraki.

From Te Waipounamu the Tenzings move on to the North Island where they will meet Te Kāhui Maunga: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. Their visit is being facilitated by NZ Māori Tourism.