Baldwin Street: How Steep is the World’s Steepest Street?
Let’s get the mundane facts about Baldwin Street out of the way first. This 350-metre stretch of road in Dunedin, New Zealand is recognised by the Guinness World Records as the world’s steepest street. Its official maximum gradient is 19 degrees (though there are little bits that are 21 degrees); in other words, the ground rises a metre for every 2.86 metres you cover horizontally. You might be able to find another place or two with a slightly steeper slope, but it isn’t in the records.
The inclusion of roads like Baldwin Street that lead up the rugged slopes of Signal Hill was entirely intentional. In the mid-19th Century, Charles Kettle surveyed Dunedin and designed its city plan based on the widely-admired layout of Edinburgh New Town. Kettle died before the bold plans were realised, but a mining and farming boom ensured that they became reality.
A remarkable location comes with remarkable events, like the Jaffa Race and the Gutbuster (more details below). It’s tempting to grab a GoPro and do something even crazier, so here’s a reminder that one student died and another suffered serious injuries when they rode a wheelie bin down the slope in 2001.
Enough of the dry stuff that you can find on the web. How steep is Baldwin Street in the flesh?
- As I stood at the end of the street, I wanted to ask my companion if she knew anything about belaying. I was sure that I was facing a cliff, not a hill.
- The concrete upper section adds to the wall-like appearance of Baldwin Street. Asphalt is avoided for safety reasons: in hot summers, it would melt and slide right off, while in winter it would get too slippery. This is not a place where unattended wheelchairs stay put.
- After adjusting my photos to make the ground level, I have gravity-defying core muscles. The houses around me don’t seem to fare so well, though.
- Keep a brisk and steady pace up the hill and it rewards with a good pump from the heart to the glutes, hamstrings and calves. After the workout, the drinking fountain at the top was a thoughtful and welcome feature. There’s also a pretty mural of the street view from the bottom.
- However, it can’t beat the view of the valley below. I swear people wouldn’t crawl up hills and throw themselves off planes and bridges in NZ if it wasn’t for the scenery. One does not forget memories like this in a hurry.
If you drive into Dunedin from the north via SH1 (from a place like Oamaru or Moeraki), make a left turn on Great King Street and keep going straight. After the park at the junction, it becomes North Road; look out for Baldwin Street roughly 1.5km later on the right, after Black Street. You can also take bus No. 9 or 9A from the Octagon (Stand 2 on Princes Street or Stand 8t on George Street; 25 minutes, $3.40 one-way in cash).
- Every July, 25,000 Cadbury Jaffa chocolates are released from the top of the hill in the Jaffa Race. There are winning tickets and the proceeds go to charity, but no one knows (or cares) which candy crosses the line first.
- In February, Baldwin Street hosts the Gutbuster, a foot race up and down the slope. Never has a race been more appropriately-named. The record, if you want to know, is 1 min 56 s – I can’t even run that fast on level ground.