There are two things you need to have if you live on Baldwin Street, in the city of Dunedin, New Zealand – strong leg muscles and stamina! Locals claim that the 350-m long street holds the world record for the steepest in the world, and while this isn’t officially confirmed, it’s definitely believable – the street is so steep that it had to be laid with concrete, because asphalt would flow down the slope on a warm day.
Baldwin street has a maximum slope of 1:2.86, a 36% gradient. This means that for every 2.86 meters traveled horizontally, the street rises by one meter. That’s plenty of exercise for the residents of the residential suburb of North East Valley, where the street is located. The lower reaches are only moderately steep, but the upper reaches are hair-raisingly abrupt.
Understandably, people who live on the street or visit it often are in the best of shape. Kevin Hanifin, who has been delivering the mail for the past three years, says that his fitness has improved a lot. He prefers to start his deliveries at the top of the street, while Hamish Lilly, the 17-year-old paperboy does it the other way round. And when 63-year-old resident Dave Kernahan decided to lose weight, he didn’t have to purchase an expensive gym membership. He simply walked up and down the street, and is now able to run 30 rounds each day. His personal best – 105 rounds a day!
Photo: Luke Chapman
Not everyone likes walking up the street, though. Resident Sue Marshall said she’s been to the top only once, and her husband hasn’t even attempted the climb yet. But even driving up the slope can be quite a challenge. When artist Daniel Mead painted a mural at the top of the street in 2013, he said the hardest part was driving up the hill. “It may have been a better idea to walk as I think it ruined my car,” he said.
Interestingly, Baldwin street’s current state is a result of poor planning. The planners were from London, and had no knowledge of Dunedin’s topography. They planned out the streets in a grid pattern, with taking the terrain into consideration. But when actual construction began, they realised there there were dangerously steep hills where the streets were supposed to be laid.
Photo: David Grant
Instead of returning to the drawing board, the planners decided to lumber on with their original design. They didn’t even incorporate switchbacks to tame the slope – they just kept on building roads. And where the slopes proved too steep, they simply didn’t lay any. The bizarre project resulted in Baldwin street – the steepest one of all. Other streets, running parallel to Baldwin, are quite steep as well. Arnold Street at 1:3.6, Dalmeny Street at 1:3.7, and Calder Avenue at 1:5.4.
Photo: Daniel Pletzch
The bungled up plan is largely forgotten today, and Dunedin residents take pride in Baldwin’s fame. They organise an annual festival on the street, to raise money for charity. Athletes run up and down the street, and the best race record so far stands at 1 minute and 56 seconds. There’s also the Cadbury Jaffa Race, in which residents sponsor 25,000 ‘Jaffa’, a spherical chocolate-coated confectionery, to be released down the slope. Each candy is numbered, and the winner is awarded free candy.