If you thought the steepest known street was in San Francisco, you’d be in good company— but you’d be wrong. The Guinness Book of World Record holder for the Steepest Street in the World is actually Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, a small, suburban town on the beautiful island.
Baldwin Street may not be particularly long, coming in at just over 1,000 feet, but it is quite the trek. The street clocks in at a 19 degree slope which may not sound particularly steep but, as evidenced by photos, is actually incredibly steep indeed.
British surveyor and early Dunedin resident Charles Kettle drew up plans for a road system in the city in the mid-19th century, modeling the road grid on the perfectly symmetrical version from Edinburgh’s New Town in Scotland. Unfortunately, Dunedin’s unpredicatable topography didn’t allow for such an elegant, simple system and forced the city planners to build roads on terrain that wasn’t particularly suited for building or roads, with Baldwin Street being the obvious example of their trouble.
Interestingly, the terrain of the street plays a major part in the kind of material used to surface it. For the lower, less severely inclined parts of the street, the city used regular asphalt. But for the higher reaches, they had to use super-sturdy concrete, as asphalt is too malleable and would melt downward in the summer and crack in the winter.
Dunedin hasn’t let such a steep gradient stop them from developing and using Baldwin Street just as they do any other. Homes line the block, their crazy off-kilter stance making the street look like a suburban Alice and Wonderland.
As any good small town would do, Dunedin has turned their tiny street into a major tourist attraction. Every July since 2002, the town hosts a candy race where 25,000 red Jaffa candies are individually numbered and then released at the top of the street to go tumbling down. People can sponsor individual candies, with proceeds from wins going to their favorite charities.
Additionally, there’s a Baldwin Street Gutbuster event every year since 1988 where anyone can sign up to participate in a particularly tough race where participants run up the entire length of the street and then back down again.
In a majorly kind act, someone installed a water fountain at the top of the street and an artist even painted a mural at the top to help incentivize folks to trek it to the top. Daniel Mead created an homage to the street with his black and white mural of the street itself, creating a bit of an Inception feel that is both clever and cool.
Unfortunately, the fun and games can result in tragic turn of events. In 2001, a young girl was killed after she and a friend decided to try and roll down the street confined in a trash can. The can collided with a parked trailer which killed her instantly and left her friend with major head trauma. The steep grade is no joke though it does encourage a lot of fun, most of time.
There has been some push back on Baldwin Street’s steep claims; there are, in fact, steeper streets in the world (many located in England) but are winding mountains roads that have short straightways before the road turns again. Baldwin Street remains the steepest continuos path with no turns or curves.