The first Golden Arches in New Zealand appeared in the Wellington suburb of Porirua back in 1976. Big Macs were priced at 75 cents (equivalent to $6.40 today), cheeseburgers 40 cents and hamburgers 30 cents.


Kiwi brothers Wally and Hugh Morris, founders of the Shoprite supermarket chain, had heard about the huge success of an American hamburger chain and decided to bring it to New Zealand. To start with, they had to convince Ray Kroc, the legendary creator of the McDonald’s franchise, that New Zealand was a country worth opening a restaurant or two in. At their first meeting in 1975, Kroc bluntly told the Morris brothers, “New Zealand? We’re not going there. I cruised into New Zealand on a Saturday and there was no-one in the street anywhere, and on Sunday it was even worse. I never met a more dead-than-alive hole in my life. Where do all the people go on the weekend?”


There were a multitude of problems opening the first Kiwi based restaurant because of strict import laws at the time, which limited importing of overseas products that could be produced in New Zealand. Five weeks before opening day, two vast containers with furniture, equipment, refrigerators, freezers, even a fountain were offloaded in front of the Cobham Court site in Porirua. Two American specialists were sent to Wellington to ensure the installation met strict McDonald’s requirements. The kitchen was imported on the condition local companies couldn’t reproduce it, and it was to be sent back after 12 months. However, it had been cemented into the floor and removing parts of it while still maintaining the restaurant operation meant it was impossible. The New Zealand franchise holder eventually negotiated with the American head office to import more kitchens in exchange for a large surplus of cheese the New Zealand Dairy Board had on hand at the time.

On Monday 7th June 1976, McDonald’s opened its doors for the first time in New Zealand with no fanfare. Management chose to open on the quietest day of the week to prevent an onslaught when systems were not established and crew still not fully trained. As it turned out only fourteen people walked in during the first hour. However, the presence of experienced staff from Australia and the United States helped maintain an upbeat mood throughout the week. To celebrate the Grand Opening the following Saturday, an advertisement with a tear-off coupon was placed in the newspaper: Buy a Big Mac and get one free.


No McDonald’s opening would be complete without an appearance by Ronald McDonald. A helicopter was chartered to chopper in the iconic clown. There were thousands of people waving and jumping up and down as the helicopter landed. The stampede that ensued was greater than anything the team had anticipated, even at their most optimistic. The restaurant’s kitchen team hadn’t even learned to cook a hamburger as thousands of people arrived at the door waving their newspaper coupons. To stop a riot occurring, the staff had to lock the doors and let people into the restaurant in shifts of about 20 because the restaurant only seated 140. It was already bulging at the seams with the crowd pushing against the counter already exceeding 140. After an unbelievably successful day, the last happy customers finally left the restaurant at 10pm. McDonald’s had opened in New Zealand.

McDonald’s first drive-through outlets opened in 1978 in New Lynn, Auckland and Lower Hutt, Wellington. The Golden Arches arrived in the South Island on November 3rd 1987. In 1996, the 100th McDonald’s outlet opened at the University of Technology in Auckland. Today there are 170 McDonald’s restaurants in New Zealand employing over 10,000 Kiwis serving approximately 1 million customers each week.


Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC) had arrived in New Zealand in August 1971, five years earlier, making it the first fast food restaurant in the country. There are currently around 100 KFC stores across the country. Pizza Hutt opened its first outlet in New Lynn, Auckland in September 1974.

Today, there are 2930 fast food outlets in New Zealand. Of these, 474 are multinational. It’s no wonder the country has an obesity problem!


I’m not a fan of fast food. However, when I was working in certain countries, it was often the best choice to buy from the local McDonald’s outlet because of the hygiene standards they maintain. The Golden Arches were particularly welcome while I was in Egypt and China, two countries with particularly bad hygiene standards. A Big Mac was preferable to the meat of a stray cat I was given in a Cairo restaurant or the worms presented to me in a café in Xian, China. In those places, and I must say, a number of others around the world, an American fast-food restaurant is a safer bet as far as hygiene is concerned.

Ceidrik Heward

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