Why would you want to live on the world’s steepest street? Just imagine the carnage on rubbish day as your carefully parked rubbish bin races off down the hill on a puff of breeze. Or the screaming of your hamstrings as you climb back up from the bus stop?
Baldwin Street in north-east Dunedin is officially recognised (by the Guiness Books of Records) as the world’s steepest residential street. And at just 350 metres long it draws a lot of people who are happy to sweat it out to the top, just to say they have ‘been there, done that’. It’s an unimposing street, lined with old colonial cottages and humble houses. The lower end is paved in asphalt, as most New Zealand streets are but the top portion – which is also the steepest – is paved in concrete, which is much less likely to start melting down the hill on a hot summer’s day.
The statistics are a little clouded, with varying figures, but it is generally held that the actual slope maintains a 35% gradient at its steepest point. Put another way, at the lower, less steep end of the street the elevation ratio is 1:5, meaning for 5 metres travelled the road rises one metre vertically. At the top end though, that almost doubles, with a gradient of 1:2.86. But whatever way you choose to measure, it’s a very steep road.
Like many early towns in New Zealand, Dunedin was originally drawn up by surveyors in England, who had never seen the site they were planning. There are countless streets and suburbs throughout the country in impossibly steep or swampy places, bisected by rivers, deep gullies or (as in Baldwin Street’s case) by near vertical hills. But rather than amend these plans the road builders usually carried on with the plan, raising havoc for postal services for decades to come.
You can check out Baldwin Street in your Dunedin Airport rental car, if you dare, but it hasn’t been modified for all the traffic that comes to crawl up its length. It’s a cul de sac, so if you think you’ll get there by planting your foot, think again, as turning at the top is tight and slow. There is a walkway from the top for pedestrians. Two events worth catching if you’re in town are the annual ‘Gutbuster’ run up Baldwin Street and the ‘Jaffa’ race where participants roll Jaffa sweets down the street.