The time-travelling island of Samoa

Gap year destination skips a day to greet the new year first

For the small Pacific island of Samoa, Friday 30 December 2011 will be a quiet day in the history books. This isn't due to a public holiday, national curfew or some natural phenomenon; it's because the country decided to skip the date completely.

Samoa, and its even smaller neighbour Tokelau, have decided to align themselves with their Asian-Pacific business neighbours and have hopped east across the date line. This means that for visiting travellers and backpackers on their gap year the two island nations will be amongst the first places to ring in the new year rather than the last.

Two minutes after 11.59pm on 29 December the time in Samoa and Tokelau became 12.01am on 31 December. This puts the two islands three hours ahead of eastern Australia instead of 21 hours behind it. Instead of being two hours behind California, Samoa and Tokelau are now 22 hours ahead of western mainland United States. 

American Samoa, less than 100 miles east of Samoa, is not implementing the date line change.

The Samoan government has claimed that the date line change will benefit the country financially. Samoa has close economic relationships with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and the change means that the country will be able to conduct business on the same working day as their neighbours. 

Samoa has gone back to the future

Samoan prime minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi announced that workers will not lose a day's salary owing to the change. He denied that the adjustment had anything to do with tourism and new year celebrations. 

The international date line was created at a worldwide convention in 1884. It's an imaginary line drawn roughly north to south along the 180-degree meridian in the Pacific. In places, the line zig-zags to accommodate the needs and demands of the nations along its route.

Sometimes these zig-zags are extreme; prior to 2000, the date line was re-drawn in a 1,000 mile loop around the island nation of Kiribati to allow the country to be on the same time zone as its western Pacific neighbours.

This form of time-travelling is not new to Samoa. In 1892 American traders persuaded the country to move from the eastern to western side of the international date line. 

Samoa's Pacific island neighbours have often engaged in shifting across the international date line. At the end of the 20th Century many Pacific island nations employed tactics of moving date lines and time zones to try and be the first place to meet the year 2000.  

Looking for cool places to celebrate the new year? Read Marcus Sherifi's feature 5 Places to Spend New Year's Eve

Looking to get off the beaten track and visit Samoa on your gap year? Check out gapyear.com's 10 Alternative Destinations for Your Round The World Trip