Unusual and Special World Time Zones (Listed from West to East)
A Brief history on Time Zones
The concept of world time zones is said to have originated in the mid nineteenth century, when improved communications across the world resulted in growing chaos among people from opposite parts of the globe co-ordinating with each other for business - especially among railroad companies who were finding it increasing awkward to use the then established 'mean solar time' and preferred a more streamlined method to set their clocks.
In England, between 1847 and 1852, British railway companies began using a new standard time which was set by chronometers (and whose signals were transmitted out of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich) with the aim of following a standard measure of time across the British Isles - this time later became known as GMT which became the UK's official time zone in August 1880.
The British Imperial empire had colonized almost 3/4th of the Earth's territories at its zenith so to improve logistics, the then British colony of New Zealand decided to permanently set their clocks at 11 hours 30 minutes ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) in 1868 considering they were more or less antipodal to the mother country.
Meanwhile, across the American states, time keeping was equally awkward among railroad companies due to each one following their own time instead of agreeing to a set norm. An American named Charles Dowd in 1883, proposed that the USA should follow a set system of time zones across the breadth of the country, offset by one hour from west to east. The idea of hourly offsets on time zones across the world initially advocated by Italian mathematician Quirico Filiopanti who had proposed the co-ordination of time offset east and west out of Rome and the same idea was later proposed by Scottish-Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming who in the 1870s proposed that the world should be divided into a global 24 hour clock, with the new sidereal day starting in the Pacific Ocean on the 180 Degree Longitude (the antipodal longitude to the Prime Meridian that runs through Greenwich).
Furthermore, advances in advocating the concept of 'imaginary lines' criss-crossing the Earth for navigational purposes - latitudes or parallels and longitudes or meridians helped understand and quantify the notion that given the Earth's rotational period around a 24 hour clock, the longitudes spreading 180 degrees east and west of the Greenwich Meridian (or the 0 Degree - Prime Meridian) can be configured in a way that for every 15 degrees one travels east of Greenwich, you lose 1 hour and for every 15 degrees you travel west of Greenwich, you gain 1 hour - until you travel either direction and reach the 180 Degree Meridian or the International Date Line (The theory implying that one loses or gains 4 minutes of time for every degree of longitude traveled). Upon arriving at the International Date Line or the 180 Degree Longitude, any place immediately west of the International Date Line would follow a time 12 hours ahead of Greenwich while any place immediately east of the International Date Line would follow a time 12 hours behind GMT.
Between 1900 to 1930, the world adopted what would become a standard time offset from GMT, with most places following a standard hourly offset higher or lower than Greenwich Mean Time (with countries like New Zealand and Far Eastern Russia following a timezone of GMT + 12 while the western Pacific Ocean based Baker and Howland Islands following GMT - 12). During these 30 years, many temperate-latitude based countries (most notably in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand) also implemented Daylight Saving Time (still used today and adopted in more regions) which utilized the system of advancing clocks by an hour during summer to make maximum use of daylight hours and save electricity.
As of 1960, GMT was replaced by the more accurate and 'atomic-time' based UTC (French for Temps Universel Coordanne) or CUT (Coordinated Universal Time) which also factored in 'leap-seconds'.
While most countries today use the standard hourly time offset from GMT originally set in 1929 and many are fairly practical for their geographic location, there're a few places in the world which either follow the unorthodox half hour offsets or utilize only time zone for an usually large surface area.
This article will examine these strange time zones more closely and also show the maps and select images of the places that inhabit these time zones.
The List of Special/odd World Time Zones from West to East
UTC - 12:00 (Y - 'Yankee')
Also known as the International Date Line - West/ Anywhere On Earth time zone, anyone in the region of roughly 172 degrees west to the International Date Line (headed west) will follow this time.
The UTC - 12 Offset is a special time zone in the sense that any part of the Earth here would be the last to begin a new day and more so, there're actually no inhabited places on the planet who actually utilize this time zone - Only ships sailing in this part of the Pacific Ocean would do so.
The only land masses which follow the 'GMT/UTC - 12' offset are the uninhabited US Pacific territories of Howland and Baker Islands - both located at around 1 Degree North of the Equator and the 176 Degree West Longitude. Considering these islands are the last anywhere on Earth to greet the new calender day and are uninhabited, they have garnered some attention and popularity.
UTC - 11:00 (X - 'X Ray')
Moving eastward and nautically situated roughly between the 157 degree West and 172 degree west longitudes, the UTC - 11 offset follows a time which is 11 hours behind GMT.
This time zone is special in the sense that it contains the last permanently inhabited places in the world to begin a new day or a new year on January 1 (as there are no permanent human settlements within the UTC - 12 Time zone).
The Pacific Islands of American Samoa and Niue follow this time zone.
The Independent island of Samoa (formerly known as German or Western Samoa) also used this time zone until 2012 before it switched to an eastern offset of UTC + 13 (and UTC + 14 during summer) to favor more trade between Eastern countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand instead of relying heavily on America).
UTC - 9:30 (Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia)
The westernmost of the odd 'half hour' offset time zones from GMT/UTC, this time zone is used exclusively in the group of islands called the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.
Majority of the the French Polynesian islands more or less sit in the center of the Pacific Ocean at roughly 10 degrees South and 140 to 150 Degrees West longitude and follow the UTC - 10 (V - 'Victor') offset, however due to the distant and more eastward location of the Marquesas Islands (roughly 9 Degrees South and 135 Degrees West) meant that this group of 6 major populated with roughly 9,000 people needed another time zone and hence the UTC - 9:30 was implemented here.
UTC - 4:30 (Venezuelan Standard Time)
The only 'half hour' offset timezone used across the South American continent - this time zone is used exclusively in Venezuela who via decree, re-adopted it in 2007 during the reign of the late former President Hugo Chavez.
The location of Venezuela in South America based upon the meridian offsets from the Prime Meridian (i.e. roughly 10 Degrees North and 66 Degrees West) was literally in the middle of the UTC - 4 (Q - 'Quebec'; used in Venezuela's immediate eastern neighbour, Guyana) and UTC - 5 (R - 'Romeo'; used in Venezuela's immediate western neighbour, Colombia). As a result, between 1912 and 1965, Venezuela used the 67'30" W latitude as the reference longitude to set their time zone of UTC - 4:30 (as this longitude more or less passed through the longitudinal center of the country). However, in 1965, the country changed the time zone to UTC - 4 (due to the International requirement being that only whole integers could be used as longitudinal offsets to set time zones, meaning the new frame of reference was the 60 Degree West meridian). The UTC - 4 offset was also favored as this meant increased utilization of daylight hours and the saving of energy.
However, in 2007, Hugo Chavez who was bent on going against almost everything which was the norm set by his 'capitalist' predecessors, moved the international frame of reference for Venezuelan Legal Time back to the 67'30" Longitude and re-adopted the UTC - 4:30 Offset.
UTC - 3:30 (Newfoundland, Canada)
This unusual offset from UTC is technically the Eastern most time zone followed on the main North American continent, followed exclusively on the Canadian island province of Newfoundland and South Eastern Labrador.
Newfoundland's approximately located at 49 Degrees North and 56 Degrees West, meaning it is well situated in the mid-Eastern half of the Atlantic Ocean - history tells us that when time zones were being standardized across Canada, Newfoundland was still an independent dominion and hence chose to follow its own time zone placing it in between UTC - 4 and UTC - 3 (P - 'Papa'), taking full advantage of its extreme eastern location with respect to even the North American east coast.
This makes St Johns in Newfoundland the first city off mainland North America to greet the new calender day and new year and it has led to the province's notoriety even in popular culture.
As Newfoundland and Labrador follow the general Canadian rules for Daylight Saving time, Newfoundland follows a UTC - 2:30 offset between March and November each year during the Northern Hemisphere summer.
Greenwich Mean Time/ Coordinated Universal Time/ UTC ( Z - 'Zulu')
The basis for for coordinating all of the world's civil time lies at the Royal Observatory of Greenwich, a suburb of London, England. This is where the modern concept of regulating time zones began in the late 19th century, most notably the International Meridian Conference of 1884 which was held at Washington D.C.
Greenwich Mean Time (or GMT/UTC) has served as the benchmark for coordinating various trans national activities including flights and aviation services, internet protocols and World Wide Web Standards and even millitary and scientific operations and databases. Though no longer officially used as it was replaced by the atomic standard Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the terms are used interchangeably especially during informal discussions.
The 0 degree Longitude (or the Prime Meridian) passes right through the center of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich thereby resulting in much of the territory of the British Isles lying in the Western Hemisphere while parts of London and South Eastern England lie in the Eastern Hemisphere.
It must also be noted that GMT/UTC does not alter with any changes due to daylight savings - it remains the same throughout the year. England's offiical time zone falls in the more broadly spread 'Western European Time' (which follows the same time zone as UTC) and the seasonal switch to to daylight savings time during the northern hemisphere summer is denoted by the less commonly known 'British Summer Time'
GMT/UTC (or Western European Time as its also called, depending on which nation has adoped it) is also used in other countries with geographic or longitudinal proximity to the Prime Meridian - UTC is used as north as in Iceland and even far North-eastern Greenland and as south as Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.
Other countries and territories which use UTC as their official and standard time zone include (but not limited to) Senegal, Portugal, Ireland, Morocco, Mauritania, Liberia, Togo, The Gambia, The Canary Islands.
UTC + 3:30 (Iran Standard Time) and UTC + 4:30 (Afghanistan)
Moving into the Eastern Hemisphere and into Central Asia, the next odd time zone falls in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which for many years has used the 52.5 Degree West Longtitude as the base meridian for its official time zone i.e. Iran Standard Time.
Given the diagonal extremity of Iran, the country decided to follow a time in between UTC + 3 (C - 'Charlie') and UTC + 4 (D - 'Delta'). Most Arab states including Saudi Arabia use UTC + 3 (which lie a lot more west as compared to Iran while the Persian Gulf States including the United Arab Emirates (despite falling within the same longitudinal spectrum as Iran) follow UTC + 4.
Iran is also an active follower of their own version of Daylight Saving time during the Northern Hemisphere summer (the exactly changeover dates governed by the Persian/Islamic calender each year) with the exception during the 2000s when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pulled out of following DST until 2008.
Moving furher east across Iran's north-western border, we land in Afghanistan, which decided to use the 67.5 East Degree Meridian as its base meridian while setting its time zone, choosing UTC + 4:30.
Not much is known about why Afghanistan chose to stick with a 30 minute increment instead of a whole hour offset used across 80% of the world, but there's no indication that they'll align themselves with Pakistan's time zone of UTC + 5 (E - 'Echo') or the time zones of its northern Central Asian CIS neighbors i.e. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
As mentioned earlier, the UTC + 4:30 offset is also used in Iran when they use Daylight Savings during the northern hemisphere summer.
UTC + 5:30
Moving further east from Iran across Pakistan and onto the Indian subcontinent - the heart of South Asia, the entire country of India follows a time that's set 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of UTC throughout the year.
The UTC + 5:30 Offset is used across India and the neighboring island nation of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) and has been for years met with criticism especially from far lying communities in North Eastern India as the sun over there rises almost 2 hours before the westernmost parts of the country in the state of Gujarat - I can personally attest to this since I have lived in the North Eastern part of India between 1990 and 1992 and I clearly remember the sun setting as early as 3:30 to 3:45 PM PM IST during winter!
When the British ceded political control of India in 1947, the UTC + 5:30 offset was used based on the 82.5 East Degree Meridian, which passes more or less through the middle of the country at the holy city of Allahabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh, placing it in between the UTC + 5 (E - 'Echo' offset) used in Pakistan and Maldives and UTC + 6 (F - 'Foxtrot') zone used in Bangladesh or formerly 'East Pakistan' until 1971 (which is actually west of the North Eastern states of India).
However, campaigners have repeatedly been proposing that due to the longitudinal extremities of India ranging from 68 Degrees East to 97 Degrees East, India should ideally be split into at least 2 time zones if not 3 however due to prevailing irrational and stubborn old-fashioned ideas which still exist across many factions within the Indian government, these ideas have been repeatedly rejected due to the view that changing time zones to what's being recommended would mean a return to the British era of time keeping. Having said that, farmers and tea-garden owners in India's North Eastern states are allowed to advance their clocks forward to adjust for daylight hours.
Sri Lanka briefly did use the UTC + 6:00 offset but returned to following IST after the trial of the new offset was not made permanent.
UTC + 5:45 (Nepal Standard Time)
One of the most unusual time zones of the world exists in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal (which is also the only Hindu Kingdom in the world).
Despite Nepal being located well within the longitudinal spread of India, the government of Nepal decided to adopt UTC + 5:45 as the country's official time zone in 1986, thus making it one of the only two in the world which follows a '45 minute' offset off GMT (The other being the New Zealand dependency of Chatham Islands).
Not much is known about the exactly rationale behind why Nepal chose to follow such a strange offset instead of aligning itself with Indian Standard Time except that the base meridian is the one which passes through the Nepalese capital city of Kathmandu, which mathematically is exactly 5 hours and 41 minutes ahead of Greenwich.
UTC + 6:30 (Myanmar Standard Time)
Based on the 97'30" Longitude which traverses through this long and politically isolated South-East Asian country, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) follows a time set at 6 hours 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich - This time zone is used all year round as Myanmar does not follow Daylight Saving Time.
Like Nepal, not much is known about why Myanmar chose to follow this offset instead of applying UTC + 7 (G - 'Golf') which is followed across much of mainland Southeast Asia including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam but empirical evidence suggests that since Myanmar was a former British colony administered along with the Indian subcontinent, the country chose to follow India's example of following a 30 minute offset and set its own clocks an hour ahead given its giant western neighbor.
The UTC + 6:30 is also used on the overseas Australian dependency of Cocos & Keeling Islands (situated at roughly 12 Degrees South and 96 Degrees East).- the time possibly adopted due to the unique location of the islands as compared to Sumatra and Thailand which follow UTC + 7.
UTC + 8:00 (H - 'Hotel') and 'China Standard Time'
While the UTC + 8 offset is used in a lot of different jurisdictions in both the northern and southern hemisphere, this still is an extremely unusual offset when it comes to China.
Before the Chinese Civil War in 1949, China was actually split into 5 time zones spanning from UTC + 5:30 to UTC + 8:30 (perhaps implemented by the different western countries which had carved the country into their respective 'spheres of influence').
However, in October 1949, the new communist government adopted UTC + 8 (H - 'Hotel') (which was originally used across the urbanized Chinese east coast including the cities of Beijing and Shanghai) as standard time across the country which was considered absurd by residents living in the far western parts of China, especially the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
With the breadth of China ranging from as west as the city of Kashgar (at roughly 39 Degrees North and 75 Degrees West near Tajikistan) to Shanghai (at 31 Degrees North and 121 Degrees East), using the official offset of UTC + 8 means that the Chinese face the same impediments as seen by the Indians living in the far Eastern region of the sub-continent and that is to unofficially modify their clocks to correctly utilize all available daylight hours.
Nevertheless, there seems to be no plan by the Chinese government to modify Chinese time zones to suit local sunrise and sunset hours for residents in the country's far west. So ciities like Urumqi and Kashgar have modified their schedules accordingly to deptic official business times in 'Beijing Time' (For example, many shops in Urumqi would state their hours of business as '10:00 AM to 7:00 PM Beijing Time').
The Special Administrative Divisons of Macau and Hong Kong have also adopted UTC + 8 as their standard time zones and other major non Chinese cities which use the UTC + 8 offset as standard time are Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Taipei and Perth.
UTC + 9:30 (Australian Central Standard Time) and UTC + 10:30
Moving further east out of Asia and into the land Down Under and also my homeland, these unique Australian time zones have been in existence since the late 19th century when Australian colonies were standardizing their time zones between 1884 and 1899 to comply with the International Meridian Conference of Washington D.C.
While Australia was initially carved into 3 standard time zones offset by whole hours i.e. UTC + 8 (Western Standard Time), UTC + 9 (Central Standard Time; I - 'India') and UTC + 10 (Eastern Standard Time; K - 'Kilo'), the colony of South Australia decided to advance its clocks by a further 30 minutes, thereby adopting the base meridian of 142'30" as a reference longitude (which falls outside of South Australia's political boundaries). The UTC + 9:30 was also adopted by the Northern Territory of Australia (formerly being part of South Australia before becoming a Federally controlled territory) and the far western city of Broken Hill in New South Wales (The rest of NSW follows UTC + 10 as standard time)
The Australian off shore territory of Lord Howe Island also has a unique time zone, in that it follows UTC + 10:30 as standard time during the southern hemisphere winter between March and October and advances its clocks by 30 minutes only during daylight saving between November and March (unlike the standard hourly advance followed in other regions of the world that practice Daylight Saving time).
Things get even more complicated among Australian time zones during the southern hemisphere summer due to South Australia advancing its clocks by an hour during daylight saving (which is not practiced in the Northern Territory) - this results in the time at South Australia (and broken Hill) falling 30 minutes ahead of the state of Queensland (which lies east of SA and follows UTC + 10 all year round since it doesn't adopt daylight savings during summer) thereby carving Australia into 5 distinct time zones during summer.
In 1994, there were proposals to change the South Australian time zone to UTC + 9 however the plan was rejected.
UTC + 11:30 (Norfolk Island Time)
The easternmost half-hour offset based time zone in the world is used throughout the year on the island nation of Norfolk Island, which is located at roughly 29 degrees North and 167 Degrees East - or roughly halfway between Australia and the French overseas territory of New Caledonia (which uses the UTC + 11, L 'Lima') time zone.
Despite the latitude of Norfolk Island being comparable with that of northern New South Wales, the country does not use Daylight Saving time .
Historically speaking, the UTC + 11:30 offset is also unique in the way that it was actually the first ever official time zone to be used in any place in the world when the then British colony of New Zealand adopted it in the 19th century.
There's no proposal or plan at the moment for Norfolk Island to switch to UTC + 11 and align itself with the time zones of New Caledonia and Vanuatu etc.
UTC + 12:45 (Chatham Standard Time)
The Chatham Islands archipelago is located east of New Zealand's south island at roughly 44 Degrees South and 176 Degrees West (east of the 180 Degree Longitude or the International Date Line).
Despite the islands being technically located at the end of the Earth's western hemisphere, the islands have been part of New Zealand's sovereign control since 1842 and have hence aligned their time zone to an 'eastern' orientation. Nevertheless, due to their location, they've adopted their unique time zone of 12 hours 45 minutes ahead of UTC (45 minutes ahead of New Zealand's time zone, UTC + 12-M 'Mike', all year around) and this is the only other time zone (apart from Nepal's) which follows a 45 minute offset as against the hourly or 30 minute offset. As a result of this offset, the Chatham Islands also contain New Zealand's easternmost point called 'Forty-Fours' (a group of islands roughly 500 miles east of the South Island).
The Chatham Islands like the rest of New Zealand, follows daylight savings during the southern hemisphere summer between October and March and orients its time to a whopping 13 hours 45 minutes ahead of UTC, thereby making it only the 2nd inhabited place on earth to greet the new year after the Kiritimati Islands of Kiribati.
UTC + 14:00 (Line Islands of the Republic of Kiribati)
And finally - completing our journey across the globe to find the easternmost unusual time zone around, we arrive the easternmost time zone of our planet itself, which has permanently set its clocks 14 hours ahead of UTC (or a grand 26 hours ahead of the westernmost time zone of the world!)
This is the highest time zone in the world, meaning that it is the first part of the world to greet the new calender day and as such the first to greet a new year and the region which follows it are the Line Islands of Kiribati, which span across the equator and the longitudes between 150 to 158 Degrees West. The entire Kiribati archipelago itself straddles 4000 km across the International Date Line and more or less parallel to the Equator. To be more precise, the inhabited but very remote Caroline Atoll of the Line Islands, located at 9 Degrees South and 150 Degrees West is literally the first inhabited place on Earth to see the new day and became famous when it was the first place on earth to greet the new millennium on January 1 2000.
The UTC + 14 offset did not exist prior to January 1 1995 - Kiribati, owing to its massive east to west spread across the Pacific Ocean was split into the time zones of UTC + 12 (Gilbert Islands which included the capital city of Tarawa) and UTC - 10 and UTC - 11 (Line and Phoenix Islands respectively). Frustrated by the fact that the country's administrative divisions could only work with each other for 4 days out of 7 due to this discrepancy, the government of Kiribati decided to permanently adopt UTC + 13 and UTC + 14 across the Phoenix and Line Islands respectively to improve administrative efficiency and communicate with each other over a proper 5 day working week.
The resulting switch also resulted in a massive deviation of the International Date Line's path around the islands of Kiribati and even today, 19 years since the switch not all time databases are aware of this update including MS Windows who don't let you set a clock beyond the Tongan time zone (UTC + 13).
The only other country where the UTC + 14 zone is used (albeit only during the southern hemisphere summer) is on the island nation of Samoa when it switches to Daylight Savings Time between October and March.
So there you have it - my list and brief reviews about what I call the world's unusual and special time zones along with map references and photographs of theimportant places and regions that lie within them.
I've always been fascinated by this subject (and geography in general including geographical extremities which exist on Earth) so I thought what better way to spend a Sunday than to write about something I'm fascinated about?
I really do hope my regular readers would find this hub interesting and I welcome feedback!
Thank you for reading :)