Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, is officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s steepest residential road. At its steepest point, the street’s slope has a gradient of 35%.
The street is named for William Baldwin, a member of the Otago Provincial Council and founder of the Otago Guardian newspaper in 1873, who was responsible for subdividing the area. The street is about 350 meters long (1,150 ft) and was surveyed in the 1850s. It’s so steep because roads during that period in New Zealand were laid out in a grid pattern without consideration for the steepness of the terrain.
Baldwin Street hasn’t always been considered the world’s steepest road. It first held the title in 1987 until the title was given to a road in Harlech, Wales, named Ffordd Pen Llech. Ffordd Pen Llech was measured at a gradient of 37.5% to Baldwin Street’s 35%.
But representatives of Baldwin Street and Dunedin appealed the Guinness World Record by surveying the three-dimensional shapes of Dunedin Street and Ffordd Pen Llech. After a review by Guinness World Records and consultation with industry specialists, the record was given back to Baldwin Street. Guinness determined that to “fairly assess the different shape of the streets…steepness must be measured by the central axis.” In other words, the gradient needed to have a measurement from the road’s centerline.
Ffordd Pen Llech is a curvy road while Baldwin Street is straight. The new results from Guinness World Records put Baldwin Street at a gradient of 34.8% and Ffordd Pen Llech at a gradient of 28.6%.
Baldwin Street has become a tourist attraction and hosts some unique events each year. One event is called the Baldwin Street Gutbuster. Participants see how quickly they can run up to the top of the street and back down again. It has taken place every summer since 1988, and the record stands at one minute and 56 seconds.
Another event is called the Cadbury Jaffa Race and World’s Steepest Street Party, which takes place in July. The race involves over 75,000 Jaffas (a spherical confectionary-coated chocolate), which are rolled down the steep road. One person sponsors each Jaffa, and there are three races. The person with the Jaffa that gets down first wins a prize. The proceeds from the event go to specific charities.
Sources: Guinness World Records, BBC, The Guardian, CNN, New Zealand Herald