by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, November 1, 2018
The clocks went back last night – one more hour of precious sleep. To mark the wondrous moment, here are a few oddities on the subject of time zones.
1. Greenland is in the same time zone as Britain
Despite its location in the middle of the North Atlantic, between Iceland and Canada, a narrow slither of eastern Greenland - the weather station of Danmarkshavn and a fraction of the surrounding Northeast Greenland National Park (the world’s largest) - uses GMT (also known as UTC or Coordinated Universal Time). It’s not a holiday destination. Danmarkshavn, where temperatures can drop to -40C in winter, has just eight human residents, and the only people who have regular access to the national park are whalers and sealers from the town of Ittoqqortoormiit. Leave it to the polar bears.
2. So is Sao Tome and Principe
Fancy a holiday without turning the clocks? A far better option would Sao Tome and Principe, a little-known island paradise 140 miles off the coast of West Africa. The country only gets only 13,000 tourists a year - so you’re sure to have bragging rights if you join them - but there’s plenty to recommend it.
“It’s ridiculous to describe anywhere as a Lost World now, but this one got seriously mislaid,” said John Gimlette, after a visit for Telegraph Travel last year. “The capital, São Tomé city, is charming and decrepit, like Africa’s own miniature Havana. From the city, we set off in all directions. Almost immediately we’d be enveloped in forest. Trees cover almost 90 per cent of the archipelago, and often the only way through is the new road provided by Brussels. Every now and then we’d cross a magnificent river. Usually, its black lava banks were laid out with washing, and they looked like long, thin quilts, wriggling off into the mist. For most Santomeans, it’s a simple life. There are no buses, no cinema and no daily papers. It’s a good day when there’s pork, and the washing dries.”
3. The biggest country in one time zone
Greenland, the world’s biggest island (Australia is classified as a continent), uses four time zones to administer its 836,109 square miles. But China keeps thing simple. It might have an area of 3,705,407 square miles, but ask each of its 1.4 billion residents for the time and you will get the same answer (it’s GMT+8).
The same is true of India, the whole of which observes GMT +5.30.
4. The most time zones in one country
France takes this title on a technicality. True, all of Metropolitan France sticks with GMT +1. But once you’ve added all those overseas departments the time zone tally rises to a remarkable 12 (see table below). The sun never sets on France.
Russia and the US come a close second. The world’s largest country by area covers 11 consecutive time zones (but since 2011 has only used nine - see below), from the Kaliningrad Oblast (GMT+2) to Kamchatka, a vital component to any successful game of Risk (GMT+12). The US also uses 11 (five on the North American mainland, the rest made up of island territories).
5. The quickest way to lose three-and-a-half hours
A colossal drinking session? That wouldn’t be wise. So how about a quick hop across the border from Afghanistan to China? The two nations share a 47-mile boundary but are three-and-a-half hours apart. Alas, this is impossible. The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Afghanistan, and the border, at the end of the Wakhan Corridor, has been closed for years.
The next best option? Pakistan and China share a border, which can be crossed at the Khunjerab Pass, and have a three-hour time difference. Check the Foreign Office advice for Pakistan before considering a trip.
6. Or gain an entire day
The International Date Line roughly follows the 180° line of longitude, which splits the Pacific in two. Fancy two birthdays in a row? Celebrate in Samoa (GMT +13). Next morning, take the 30-mile flight to neighbouring American Samoa (GMT -11) and – 25 minutes later, having crossed the International Date Line – land on your birthday again. Travel in the other direction if you want to skip Christmas.
7. To save or not to save
Daylight saving time (or British Summer Time) has been observed in the UK since 1916. Much of Europe and North America has their own version of Daylight saving time (DST) – but the majority of the world does not. That’s because, of course, as you get closer to the Equator, the need for it dissipates. This is illustrated perfectly by the fact that the southern halves of Australia and Brazil use DST, but the northern halves don’t bother.
8. Putin the time lord
When Vladimir Putin wants something, he usually gets it – and that includes abolishing time. In 2011, he scrapped DST across the whole country, effectively wiping out two time zones, and in 2015, after annexing the region, he turned the Crimea’s clocks forward two hours to put it in sync with Moscow.
9. Hawaii and Alaska share a time zone
You couldn’t get two more contrasting destinations, one famed for its surfing and beaches, the other for its icy wilderness. But they have a couple of things in common. Volcanoes. And a time zone (but only for half the year, when Alaska observes DST).
10. Other curious couples
There are many other contrasting countries that share the same time zone. Kazakhstan and the Maldives (GMT+5). Belarus and Madagascar (GMT+3). Or how about Kamchatka and Tuvalu (GMT+12)?
11. Halves and quarters
Some nations are just out to confuse you. While most countries use time zones that differ from GMT by a number of full hours, others use 30-minute offsets. Such as India, parts of Australia, Sri Lanka, Newfoundland, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea. Even more curiously, Nepal and the Chatham Islands of New Zealand use GMT+5:45 and GMT+12:45, respectively.
12. The ones that can’t decide
Märket, a 8.2-acre island in the Baltic, is divided between Sweden and Finland - and consequently uses two time zones. But nobody lives there, so who cares? More remarkable is Tuba City in the Navajo Nation homeland in Arizona. The Navajo observe DST, but Arizona does not. Result? For half the year, half the town is an hour ahead of the rest.
13. The time on the South Pole
Longitudes converge at the poles, so neither North or South has an official time zone. But those scientists need to set their watches to something. In the North Pole, research stations follow the times in their respective countries, but the US-run Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, uses New Zealand time. Why? Because all flights to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station depart from Christchurch meaning all official travel to and from the South Pole goes through New Zealand.
14. The time in space
The International Space Station follows GMT. Because when you’re orbiting the globe, it just makes sense.