The World's Weirdest Time Zones

July 9, 2019

Time Zones

The Earth makes one full rotation on its axis every 24 hours, spinning up a new day with each turn.

The sun shines on half the planet at a time, so, we need time zones. If there was just one standard time for the whole planet, noon would be in the middle of the day on one side of the world and in the middle of night on the other side.

Since the 1800s, we've been dividing the globe into 24 sections, or time zones, with each zone being 15 degrees of longitude wide. Accounting for the curvature of the Earth, the zones are farther apart at the equator (about 1,038 miles apart), and closer near the poles.

The first time zone border runs through Greenwich, England, near London; that imaginary longitudinal line is known as the prime meridian, and the time in Greenwich is called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). If you were traveling west from Greenwich, every 15-degrees longitude would represent a new time zone. That is, in each new zone you reach, it's an hour earlier than in the one before it.

The time standard we use is based on the number of hours offset from GMT. So, for example, GMT-1 refers to 15 degrees west of the prime meridian, GMT+1 means 15 degrees east, etc.

For all the help they provide, time zones can cause some serious confusion. From some countries' decisions to ignore them, to strange zone refinements that are made based on international boundaries, time zones are sometimes problematic in daily life.

This article will look at some of the world's weirdest time zones.

Have a Late Lunch in Kashgar, China

China, the third-largest country in the world, uses only one time zone. The country measures about 3000 miles from its western border to its eastern border, so it actually incorporates five of the theoretical time zones (GMT+5 to GMT+9).

For some reason, the whole country is on GMT+8. It's been that way since 1949, when the Chinese government sought to impose national unity on its outer territories.

This makes for some very odd lunchtimes. In the western-most part of the country, noon (the time when the sun is highest) occurs much later than 12 o'clock. In Kashgar, during certain times of the year, noon can be as late as 3:10 pm!

How to Lose a Day in Just a Few Miles

The International Date Line (IDL) can really mess with your head. It's located halfway around the world from the prime meridian (0° longitude); that's approximately 180° east (or west) of Greenwich, England. Thanks to the IDL, there are places where, from your perspective, it's still yesterday.

In the far east region of Russia, the populace is waking up and preparing breakfast, while, on the other side of the world, it's bedtime.

Running through the open Pacific Ocean, the IDL zigs and zags a little more than you'd expect. The Russian island of Big Diomede uses GMT+12, but the very nearby portion of the United States, Diomede, Alaska, uses GMT-9.

The Aleutian Islands sit practically right on top of the theoretical International Date Line, but those islands use GMT-10 for convenience.

In a relatively recent change to the IDL, Samoa leapt forward one day. In 1892, Samoa's king deemed that the country should adopt a time zone that would align them with America. When Samoa then built relationships with its nearer neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, a problem arose, as Samoa was 21 hours behind Sydney-time. In December 2011, the Samoan government made a time zone switch so they would operate just three hours ahead of Australia.

In 1995, three colonies got moved to the western side of the IDL overnight. The Republic of Kiribati gained independence in 1979 by combining three colonies, the UK’s Gilbert Islands, plus the Phoenix and Line Islands from the US. There was only one hitch—the Gilbert Islands ran on GMT+12 and the other two colonies used GMT-11 and GMT-10, respectively. Tweaks to the IDL in 1995 created the time zones GMT+13 and GMT+14 and moved the line 2,000 miles eastward in that location.

Daylight Saving, but at What Cost?

Central European Summer Time—it sounds like it could be the title of a Monet painting, but it's actually the time zone of Seterra headquarters in Uppsala, Sweden. That is, at the time of this writing, it's summer here.

The observance of daylight saving time always complicates things. In October, Sweden will drop back one hour, switching to Central European Time.

Incidentally, Sweden and Finland are both currently questioning the benefits of daylight saving time. The countries are discussing, at the EU level, a plan to abolish it, citing the assertion that changing clocks causes sleeping problems and other health issues.

There are few places where daylight saving time gets more complex than in Arizona. Although the state adheres to a single time zone, GMT-7, year-round, the Native American territory Navajo Nation adheres to daylight saving time. The territory spans several southwestern US states, and the part located in Arizona is sometimes one hour ahead of the rest of the state.

Here's where things get really nuts. Inside the Navajo Nation is the Hopi Reservation, which does not observe daylight saving time, and it's chopped up into tiny, noncontiguous chunks. If you're ever traveling through Arizona, you'll pass through so many time zones your head will spin!

Australia: Land of Needlessly Complex Time Zones

The middle states of South Australia and the Northern Territory sit very close to a longitude that's 135 degrees west of GMT, so, using GMT+9 is a no-brainer. Why the Aussies chose GMT+9½ for those regions is a mystery, and it's not the only strange thing about Australian time zones.

Since the southern states of South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, and the Capital Territory use daylight saving time, but the other Australian states don't, for six months of every year, the country has three time zones instead of five.

Also, consider Tweed Heads, which sits in the far north of New South Wales and abuts Coolangatta on Queensland's Gold Coast. Technically, the two states are in the same time zone, but New South Wales observes daylight saving, and Queensland doesn't. You can lose or gain an hour there by simply crossing the street!

New South Wales' Broken Hill is another Australian time zone anomaly. It's historically been linked to South Australia via an active railway, so it chose to operate on South Australian time. The citizens of Broken Hill are a half-hour behind the rest of New South Wales, but they make it work.

Time Zone Precision Taken Too Far

Plenty of countries have decided that their time zone could not be accurately defined using whole hours of offset from GMT. Iran, for example, uses GMT+3½; Afghanistan uses GMT+4 ½; India, GMT+5 ½; and Burma, GMT+6 ½.

Some places get even more nitpicky about it, like Eucla, a small town in the far east part of Western Australia that opted for GMT+8¾, while the rest of the state is satisfied with GMT+8. New Zealand's Chatham Islands did the same thing, picking GMT+12¾. Nepal is also part of the three-quarter hour club, using GMT+5¾.

It's Time Zone Madness!

The strange time zones of the world can create paradoxes worthy of a science fiction blockbuster. Time travel may be the stuff of fantasy, but, in reality, there's a brief moment every day when the Earth has three different calendar days going at the same time!

When it's 10:00 AM on Wednesday in Greenwich, England, people on the New Zealand-owned island of Niue are experience 11:00 PM on Tuesday. In the same instant, in the Line Islands of the Republic of Kiribati, it's midnight on Thursday!

We hope you enjoyed this look at some of the world's weirdest time zones!