Thousands of Aucklanders yesterday marched on to Queens Wharf, where thousands of soldiers left during both world wars, to mark the opening of the Red Gates on Anzac Day.

Visitors to the wharf, which is to be turned into party central for the Rugby World Cup, roamed the area and visited the Navy's vessel Rotoiti to celebrate the transfer from Ports of Auckland to the public.

"Today, Queens Wharf becomes the public's wharf," said Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, whose council bought the wharf last year with the Government for $40 million.

The sunny autumn day attracted thousands of Aucklanders to look around the historic 2.75ha wharf and two 98-year-old sheds that the owners want to replace with a temporary Rugby World Cup venue and cruise ship terminal.

It also attracted members of the Auckland Architecture Association, who handed out flyers to visitors, hoping to enlist support to save the two sheds from destruction.

After months of wrangling over what to do with Queens Wharf, Mr Lee and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully announced plans last week to build a $9.6 million curved pavilion that will be an information centre, meeting place and media centre for the cup and a temporary cruise ship terminal.

Another $9.8 million will be spent on landscaping and $4 million on wharf strengthening.

Mr Lee said it was thanks to the regional council and the Government that Queens Wharf had been turned into public open space in perpetuity. He hoped the redevelopment of the waterfront would be carried on by the new Auckland Council.

Mr McCully said it was 500 days to the tournament tomorrow and he valued the leadership and contribution brought by Mr Lee and regional council chief executive Peter Winder.

Auckland Architect Association spokesman Adam Mercer said a political process, not an architectural process, had decided what would happen on the wharf.

The Save our Sheds flyers said the sheds could be scrapped for a six-week party and a temporary structure.

"We have to ask, today of all days, shouldn't we be embracing our past, rather than celebrating its destruction?" said the flyers.