WORLD’S STEEPEST STREET

Baldwin Street

A postman negotiates the 274 steps that help pedestrians climb Baldwin Street, in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s steepest street. Photographs really don’t convey the terrifying steepness of the incline. To be physically there and gaze up at the impossible incline makes the heart skip a few beats.

Located in North East Valley, Dunedin,  Baldwin Street hosts a number of strange events including the now famous ‘jaffa throw’ which is part of the annual Cadbury Chocolate Carnival.  Cadbury has a large factory in the city. A total of 75,000 red candy balls called ‘jaffas’, are let loose at the top of the street in three separate races. The spectacle created as they bounce their way to the bottom, attracted 15,000 onlookers for this year’s races. Believe it or not, each jaffa is numbered and worth a dollar with people betting on the winners and the money going to charity.

Jaffa race

The  grueling Gutbuster Race is another annual Baldwin Street highlight. Around 1000 fitness fans entered the race this year with the current record for charging down the steep gradient an unbelievable 116.6 seconds, and that’s after jogging to the top first!

Gutbuster race

The dramatic incline has attracted some crazy escapades including skateboarders and car towing. Unfortunately, with fearless people constantly looking for new thrills to outdo previous ones, a mishap was always on the cards. In 2001, two students climbed into a wheelie bin and used it as a sled. The bin hit a parked trailer at the bottom of the street and killed one of the students and seriously injured the second young occupant.

The street was first created in 1877 when a Captain Baldwin purchased ten acres in the valley. He had it surveyed and sold sections the following year with no concession for the steepness. The upper part of the road was in rough grass for many years. The lower part was sealed in the 1950s with the middle part sealed a decade later. Finally in 1972, roughened concrete was laid on the upper surface because it was discovered bitumen literally rolled off the surface in the summer heat. Josie, a resident on the street for eight years, admitted to a reporter that she had never made it to the top of the street in all the time she had lived there, but added she would attempt to make it someday.

When I lived in the city, I once attempted to drive my car up the street to impress a friend on a visit to Dunedin. Like Josie, I didn’t make it to the top. I really had the truly frightening feeling that the front wheels would lift off the road and the whole car would flip onto its roof. I found a driveway to gingerly turn around and cautiously negotiated my way back to the bottom where I could breathe again.

Baldwin Street is now an important part of the city’s tourist circuit but only a small percentage of visitors attempt to climb more than half way. Even fewer make it to the top. The vast majority, on seeing the heart stopping gradient are content to stand at the bottom and take photos of the steepness that has made Baldwin Street world famous.

A post office at the bottom of the street has been converted into a museum tracing the street’s development with a gift shop offering souvenirs of a suburban street with an interesting world record.

 

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