David Whitley limbers up for another of New Zealand’s unique adventures – climbing Baldwin Street in Dunedin.
I’m approximately two-thirds of the way up, when a horrific thought strikes me. Imagine actually living here, and not having a car? The buses only go past the bottom end of the street, and having to surmount Mt Baldwin every day would probably send you into nervous breakdown territory.
Baldwin Street isn’t really a mountain, although crampons and an ice axe probably wouldn’t go amiss in the depths of winter. Amongst’s cavalcade of adventure sports, getting to the top of this suburban street doesn’t exactly rank high on the scale, but it has become one of Dunedin’s most popular tourist attractions.
Baldwin Street is – according to Guinness World Records – the steepest street in the world. Only drivers with the utmost faith in their brakes would consider parking on the upper stretches, while for joggers it offers a new level in masochism.
It’s in an otherwise non-descript suburban location, yet throughout the day people can be found trudging to the top and shelling out $2 for a certificate and the supremely tacky shop at the bottom.
Every year, during the Dunedin Festival, the Baldwin Street Gutbuster race takes place. The theory is simple, even if the execution isn’t – the quickest to race up to the top and back wins.
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I pity the fools. While the first stretch is surprisingly gentle, the rest is pretty sweaty work. The street is only 161.2m long, but climbs a vertical height of 47.22m. That’s an average gradient of 1 in 3.41 and the steepest stretch boasts a gradient of 1 in 2.86. During this section, the sloping pavement is mercifully converted into steps. Many less-than-hardy adventurers seem to take this as a cue to have a nice sit down.
Not me, however. Oh no – I’m made of sterner, sweatier stuff than that – and I painstakingly trudge onwards like an old donkey about to be melted down for glue.
And it’s from the very top – where a bench and water fountain have been thoughtfully provided – that you realise just how steep Baldwin Street is. From the bottom, the slope looks deceptively unintimidating. From the top, it’s like looking down from the highest point of a rollercoaster, just before you hurtle downwards. The views of hills and patches of woodland on the horizon contrast with the little ant-like cars at the bottom.
I make my way down on the opposite side of the road, and just at the bottom of the steps is a delightful splattering of vomit. Baldwin Street has clearly busted yet another gut…