Stephanie Holmes enters the Strata Lounge, at Auckland International Airport.
The greeting: Pleasant enough, from a slightly bored-looking member of staff.
First impression: The Strata Lounge — formerly known as the Emperor Lounge — is in the old Koru Club area, upstairs on the same level as the Qantas and Emirates' lounges. This one is slightly more egalitarian — anyone can enter, provided they pay $49 for the privilege (book online up to 24 hours in advance; price covers a maximum stay of up to three hours. If you need longer, it will cost $75). I quickly realised it was well worth the investment.
What's there: The lounge is large and well thought-out, with dedicated areas, like a quiet zone, kids' play zone in a glass-walled room, and a business centre. Food was plentiful.
Who's there: On my visit, hardly anybody. A young Asian couple spooning on a lounge chair built for one; a few British couples; some solo travellers catching up on work; and one boisterous, noisy, unruly child.
Anything for the kids? The kids' room had a TV but it was displaying a "signal loss" message. There were also toys and beanbags. I wish the noisy child's mother had given up "shhhing" her daughter and just deposited her into the kids' room instead.
Tech stuff: Not a huge number of power points. But the free Wi-Fi was fast and unlimited.
Reading material: There are copies of the NZ Woman's Weekly, Woman's Day, NZ Listener, a big stack of NZ Herald's, and some Chinese language magazines.
The view: A whole wall of windows looked down to the new departures lounge and duty-free shops, which also seemed quiet on this Friday afternoon. There was also a peep of natural light from the windows on the other side of the building.
Eating and drinking: Food and drink selection was great, with a range of wines, beers, premium spirits and soft drinks. There was no bottled water, which is a good thing for minimising plastic waste. A tap of chilled filtered water was useful for filling up reusable water bottles. I tucked into some light snacks — a flavourful club sandwich, some huge pimento-stuffed olives, sundried tomatoes, grapes and some top-notch blue cheese with crisp, salty crackers. There were also half a dozen hot meal options on offer, including curry, lamb casserole and Chinese stir-fries.
The bathrooms: There are two unisex toilets. The one I used was in need of a clean.
The lounge atmosphere: Mostly peaceful, apart from that child and the faint strains of Celine Dion drifting from the kitchen. It seemed like it was the same song on repeat.
Some kind of torture device perhaps? Kitchen staff, if you need saving, send out a signal …
The bottom line: A great way to feel like a premium passenger, without having to pay premium prices.