Party Central - be early or miss out

By Mathew Dearnaley, Bernard Orsman

Performers at the Dress Rehearsal for the Opening Night extravaganza for the Rugby World Cup 2011. Photo / supplied
Performers at the Dress Rehearsal for the Opening Night extravaganza for the Rugby World Cup 2011. Photo / supplied

Thousands of fans will be turned away from "Party Central" on Queens Wharf at tomorrow's Rugby World Cup opening night ceremony on the waterfront.

Auckland Council organisers yesterday conceded they expect the much-hyped party zone to reach a capacity of 12,000 people before 5pm, after which people will have to queue to get on the wharf or go elsewhere on the waterfront.

They have planned for 50,000 people to attend the "biggest party Auckland has ever seen" from 4pm to 2am on the waterfront.

Almost 60,000 others will go Eden Park for the official opening, which starts at 7.30pm and the All Blacks-Tonga game at 8.30pm. Officials say people should be at the park by 7pm.

Hundreds of people were last night treated to a dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony. The final practice was held at Eden Park in front of family members and guests of the performers.

Security was tight and spectators were searched for cameras or other recording equipment before they entered Eden Park.

The half-hour ceremony started with a powerful waiata. As the instrumental music swelled and the lights dimmed to blues and purples, land yachts circled the ground.

A booming haka echoed around the stadium as the lights changed to furious reds and oranges.

"It was short and sweet, but completely worth it," said one woman.

"It really was fantastic and something special."

Tomorrow, thousands of people are expected to head for the action on Queens Wharf, which includes the $9.8 million Cloud, the refurbished Shed 10, a concert by the Finn brothers and giant television screens on which to watch the Eden Park open and the All Blacks-Tonga match.

Dozens of security guards, police and volunteers will stop people coming on the wharf once 12,000 people are counted.

The organisers had earlier planned for 15,000 people, but this number was reduced to 12,000 after the installation of Tourism New Zealand's giant rugby ball, the ANZ dome and other facilities taking up space on the wharf.

There will be room for only about 2000 people in front of the main stage for the Finn brothers' concert.

Rachael Dacy, the council officer who has spent four years planning to get Auckland ready for the tournament, urged people to get to the waterfront early to secure a spot on Queens Wharf, saying she expected it to be full by between 4pm and 5pm. The wharf will be open from 3pm.

Ms Dacy said the party zone was much bigger than Queens Wharf and included the stretch of Quay St from the Viaduct Harbour to Britomart Place where people could watch the action on six giant screens.

Quay St is the venue for a procession of paddlers at 5pm following the arrival of 20 waka at the Viaduct Basin, with kapa haka groups and roving performers providing entertainment. Food stalls and toilets will be set up on Quay St.

Two tow trucks will be posted near the harbour bridge for motorway emergencies and maintenance staff will be at main railway stations in case of trouble on the tracks.

Businesses are being urged to allow staff to go home or to the waterfront festivities no later than 3.30pm, to ensure free movement through the streets.

Much of Quay St, as well as surrounding streets, will be closed from 10 o'clock tonight until 4am on Saturday to allow for preparations for the waterfront festivities, which will include a huge sound and light show at 8pm on Friday, sandwiched between large-screen broadcasts from Eden Park.

A haka by the 600 waka paddlers will be followed by the 80-minute Finn brothers' concert.

Dave Dobbyn will sing Welcome Home as the waka arrive.

Yesterday, Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer wrote to Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development boss Michael Redman expressing concern about the emphasis placed on Queens Wharf for the opening night celebrations.

"I believe it will struggle to cope with the crowds and deliver on the high expectations promised," he said.

Mr Brewer said he was concerned about promotional material for Queens Wharf which said there would be "family-friendly areas where children can enjoy the atmosphere".

"Given the volume of people expected on Friday night, the queues for the makeshift bars and people pushing to get on the wharf, I doubt the atmosphere will be a suitable one for children.

"We've got thousands of licensees in Auckland and I remain concerned that too much time, money and energy has been put towards promoting one venue that was never going to cope well with large numbers," Mr Brewer said.

In a response to Mr Cameron's letter, Mr Redman last night said the wider waterfront, including the Viaduct Harbour, was designed to cater for greater numbers than those attending Queens Wharf.

There were plans to expand the party zone on the waterfront if required.

Mr Redman said people could also watch the event at home on television or go to vantage points, such as the Parnell Rose Gardens or Mt Victoria in Devonport for a 12-minute fireworks and light show at 8pm.

- NZ Herald

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