The "tangled web of confusion" that are New Zealand's Easter trading laws are proving a headache for shop owners, a retail expert says.

A recent law change gave local councils the authority to permit Easter Sunday trading and 25 mostly smaller councils have so far taken up the option.

Five councils have continued with the the ban while all major centres are yet to reach decisions. Shops which open in the restricted areas risk a prosecution and $1000 fine.

The new rules give rise to some peculiar scenarios where, for example, you can do your shopping in Napier on Sunday but not in neighbouring Hastings.

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Shops in the centre of Taupo will be allowed to open on Easter Sunday but not those on the outskirts of town.

Tauranga residents who need to do a spot of shopping on Sunday would have to drive all the way to Rotorua, which has embraced Easter Sunday trading unlike its Bay of Plenty neighbour.

There are exemptions to the Easter trading laws, and some of them are quite unusual.

Dunedin's Carnegie Centre has an exemption to sell arts, crafts, children's toys and books on Easter Sunday.

"Toys and books sold only while performances happening on the mezzanine floor," according to the exemption in the Shop Trading Hours Act.

In Nelson, crafts can be sold "whenever Founders Park is open". Nelson City Council has been approached for clarification on whether this means any shop can sell crafts while the park is open, or only shops within the park. A clearer definition of "crafts" was also sought from the council. A spokesman confirmed that the park would indeed be open on Easter Sunday.

Queenstown shops can operate on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday while shops on Auckland's Parnell Rd are allowed to open from 10am to 6pm on Sunday.

Other exemptions include dairies, service stations, takeaways, bars, restaurants and cafes, duty-free stores and shops providing services rather than selling goods, such as a hairdresser.

Garden centres are the only category on list of exemptions that are only allowed to open on Easter Sunday but not Good Friday, something Oderings Garden Centre director Julian Odering finds perplexing.

The industry had fought hard to get the exemption and Odering could not understand why it didn't include Friday, too.

"It's a total anomaly .... it's bad legislation," he said. "Easter is probably the best time to plant bigger trees because it gives them a chance to establish over winter. It's one of New Zealand's great leisure activities and it's a good opportunity to turn your summer gardens into autumn and winter gardens. That's why so many people want to come in here over Easter."

Since 1992, Odering said the his business had paid in excess of $20,000 in fines, Department of Labour Fees and court costs because they had refused to shut shop over Easter.

Retail NZ spokesman Greg Harford called New Zealand's Easter trading laws "a tangled web of confusion".

"It's out of date, really. It's good that the Government has moved to give councils the ability to allow Easter Sunday trading, but I think a single, national set of consistent rules would make much more sense," he said.

"The reality is, even if people aren't going to their local shop this Easter, many of them will be at home on their computer and doing their shopping online because that's what we increasingly do as a nation."

It seemed unfair that it was only shops that had to close down and that the rules didn't apply to other businesses like cafes or restaurants.

"You can have your law firm open if you want to, you can have your professional sports team playing, you can work as a prostitute - you can do almost anything on Easter Sunday except open your shop."

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) data shows that prosecutions for shops illegally opening over Easter steadily declined from 63 in 2006, to 34 in 2008, 28 in 2010, 25 in 2012, 0 in 2014 and 3 in 2016.

MBIE did not provide answers to the Herald's additional questions.

COUNCILS ALLOWING EASTER SUNDAY TRADING

Carterton
Central Otago
Clutha
Far North
Grey District
Hauraki
Kaikoura
Kaipara
Kawerau
Marlborough
Masterton
Napier
New Plymouth
Opotiki
Queenstown-Lakes
Rangitikei
Rotorua
Stratford
Southland
South Taranaki
South Wairarapa
Thames-Coromandel
Waikato
Wairoa
Waitomo