A Short Lesson in Time Travel


The International Date Line has confused navigators, explorers, and the everyday traveler for nearly five centuries since humans first began circumnavigating the globe  – don’t let it baffle you!

A Short Lesson in Time Travel

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was the leader of the first expedition to circumnavigate the world. When his men arrived at the Cape Verde Islands near Africa at the end of the journey in 1522, to their surprise, they were one day later than they had worked out in their logs.


the International dateline
What is the International Date Line?

The International Date Line is not, of course, a real thing. It is a conceptual necessity when accounting for multiple time zones around the world. It is an imaginary line, running down the Pacific Ocean from North to South, which determines where a calendar day ends and the next day begins.

This imaginary line runs roughly along the 180° meridian - with a few slight diversions here and there, intended to ensure that no country in this region is split into two. If you cross the International Date Line on a journey towards the east, then 24 hours are subtracted from your time. If you cross it when going west, then 24 hours are added to your time. Similarly, for every 15° crossed when heading east, you earn an hour and for every 15° crossed when heading west, you lose one.

Welcome to the future...

New Zealand is one of the first places on earth to see the sun - the inspiration for the First Light Travel name. When you travel from North America, you travel across the International Date Line which means you journey forward in time to get here. So when you leave San Francisco on Friday night you land in Auckland on Sunday morning. Of course, you may feel like you’ve lost a day but you’ll gain that back on your return journey. If you’re traveling from Europe you’ll have to move forward in time when you arrive, but you’ll get that time back when you return home.

Confused? Try this........

Because flights to New Zealand cross the international dateline, the arrival dates can be confusing. For instance, a flight leaving Los Angeles on Saturday evening will not arrive in New Zealand until Monday morning/afternoon. Conversely, flights back to the US from New Zealand often arrive on the same date as they left - so it's possible to fly out of Auckland at 9 pm on a Friday, for instance, and arrive in Los Angeles at 2 pm on that same Friday.

This phenomenon allows you to do a full 14-day trip in New Zealand, leaving North America on Saturday afternoon, spending the 14 days from Saturday to Sunday on one of our trips, and be back at work on Monday morning. This phenomenon applies for those departing from Europe and other areas that cross the international dateline on the way to New Zealand. 


New Zealand Fact

Read what Bill Bryson says...The experience of travelling across the International Date Line in “In a Sunburned Country”.

“Each time you fly from North America to Australia, and without anyone asking how you feel about it, a day is taken away from you when you cross the international date line. I left Los Angeles on January 3 and arrived in Sydney fourteen hours later on January 5. For me, there was no January 4. None at all. Where it went exactly I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that for one twenty-four-hour period in the history of the earth, it appears I had no being.

I find it a little uncanny, to say the least. I mean to say, if you were browsing through your ticket folder and you saw a notice that said, “Passengers are advised that on some crossings twenty-four-hour loss of existence may occur” (which is, of course, how they would phrase it, as if it happened from time to time), you would probably get up and make inquiries, grab a sleeve, and say, “Excuse me.” There is, it must be said, a certain metaphysical comfort in knowing that you can cease to have material form and it doesn’t hurt at all, and, to be fair, they do give you back the day on the return journey when you cross the date line in the opposite direction and thereby manage somehow to arrive in Los Angeles before you left Sydney, which in its way, of course, is an even neater trick.”

Interested in starting to plan your New Zealand adventure?

Talk to our team today to help find the right trip for you. Browse our self drive holidays now for inspiration.



Brent Narbey
Brent Narbey
: 23 Mar 2010 (Last updated: 11 Apr 2022)

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