East Cape



David Whitley puts his manhood on the line to conquer nature’s own adrenalin sport – the Rere Rockslide.


It’s an unusual approach for a tour. Steve says: “I thought going for a drive would be a nice way to see the area.”


I agree wholeheartedly. But it seems as though there’s something I’ve not quite understood. It becomes clear when he hands me the keys to his car. After all, there are six of us, and it’s better to divide between two vehicles than squish into just one car.


And so it comes to pass that I am sat in a petrol station, driving a complete stranger’s car without him even checking that I can drive, unable to see out of the back due to the bodyboards and struggling to put it in reverse.


After a comical struggle around the pumps, I wind down the window and ask why the reverse on his car doesn’t work. “Maori theft alarm,” comes the reply. Apparently it stopped working last week, and he’s planning to take it in to the mechanic’s. Jolly nice of him to tell me about this twenty minutes after shunting me into the driving seat.


New Zealand isn’t exactly known for its starched formality, but in Tairawhiti, the relaxed, laissez-faire attitude is even more pronounced. The area, often known as Eastland or the East Cape stretches roughly from Gisborne to Opotiki, and it is well off the usual tourist trail.


And nowhere else in the country could the Rere Rockslide exist without cordons and close monitoring. It’s a 60m stretch of largely flat rock, descending at an angle of approximately 35 degrees into the Wharekopae river. Local legends of injuries sustained on it have been greatly encouraging. Broken bones, smashed teeth and one particular case of a torn scrotal sac have been hammed up to us during the preceding day.


Steve, to his credit, is keen to ensure that our limbs, heads and genitalia remain intact. He drums into us the two key rules – stay on the board at all times, even when fear makes us want to stick a leg out to slow down, and keep knees and legs up.


The boards are a cross between a bodyboard and an air mattress. Designed for both speed and impact-cushioning, we’re expected to ride them down the fast-flowing, greasy slope, over any ridge that may throw us into the air and into the big pool of water at the bottom. Oh, and we have to do it head first.


My first run isn’t exactly textbook – Steve’s method for controlling direction is to put the left or right arm out onto the rock when veering in the opposite direction, but it’s not by any means failsafe. I end up plunging into the lake side-on and getting a gobful of not-particularly-clean water.


But I soon start to get the hang of it, and before long I’m flying down, riding the ridges and skimming across the lake at the bottom with a tremendous bounce.


Others in the group are a bit braver, deliberately going in backwards and attempting 360 degrees spins on the way down. I value my crown jewels a bit too much to even attempt it – but it’s proof that not all of New Zealand’s thrills require high-tech equipment. Or, indeed, a reverse gear.






By David Whitley




Disclosure: David was a guest of Dive Tatapouri (Divetatapouri.com)

Baldwin St



David Whitley limbers up for another of New Zealand’s unique adventures – climbing the world’s steepest 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 New Zealand’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. 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...