The space:

Air New Zealand's lounge, which opened in 2015, clocks in at an impressive 2100sq m, with seating for 375 guests. Strata, occupying the space that was filled by Koru until the national carrier relocated, is 1200sq m and can take 140 passengers.

The Air New Zealand lounge features a fabulous covered outdoor terrace — once upon a time this was the airport's public observation deck. Send your hate mail on a postcard to Christopher Luxon, not me.

Entry:

In Strata, you can pay $49, when booking online, or $55 at the door. There's also access for premium passengers of random unaligned airlines, like Hawaiian, Korean and China Southern.

With Air New Zealand, access is limited to members of loyalty schemes, Koru members and Business Class passengers. You can't pay at the door and you can't charm your way in — trust me, I've given it my best attempt.

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Food:

Neither dazzles on this front, though Koru's cheeses are nicer and their espresso coffee is a feather in the airline's cap — you can order in advance with the app. Over in Strata it's out of a not-too-bad machine.

Drink:

Neither lounge has Kahlua, so both fail on the internationally acknowledged "can I get a white Russian" test. There's passable wine in both, regrettable Speight's in Strata and excellent Panhead in Koru.

The crowd:

Strata obviously gets plenty from those random unaligned airlines ... and, more recently, stunned stragglers from the Koru Club. And, no, none of them are

.

Facilities:

Both have acceptable showers and kids' play areas.

How crowded:

Depending on the time of day, the Koru Club can either be quite peaceful or look like a scene from one of those Peter Jackson movies where thousands of orcs descend upon a cheese board.

Over in Strata, the thoroughfare could pretty much double as a back-up runway on quiet days.

The view:

Air New Zealand has cracking runway views and the glorious Manukau Harbour. Over in Strata, you'll tend to be looking at your phone.

Entertainment:

Strata has a better stock of the Bauer lifestyle magazines,

NZ Woman's Weekly

,

Woman's Day

and

The Listener

, while Koru obviously has the very good

Kia Ora

. Both feature a forest-worth of the kind of magazines that publishers give away for free by the truckload —

Turnip Trade Gazette

and so forth.

The layout of the Strata Lounge has been described as
The layout of the Strata Lounge has been described as "large and well thought out". Photo / Supplied

Expert appraisal:

In her Lounge Check review, Herald Deputy Travel Editor Stephanie Holmes said the design of the Strata Lounge was "large and well thought-out". She concluded: "A great way to feel like a premium passenger, without having to pay premium prices."

Australian Business Traveller's David Flynn said the Koru Club boasted "a contemporary look plus some showcase touches to stamp Air NZ's own identity onto the space".

The winner:

Air New Zealand's lounge is the best at Auckland Airport, and a considerable step up on what they had previously, which sometimes had the atmosphere of the Warehouse on Boxing Day. But compared with signature lounges for national carriers overseas, it's still really just good enough. Not excellent.

Both the Koru and Strata lounges are perfectly fine for what they are. Of course, the Koru's lounge is smarter and the drink situation is a major step up — and, of course, it ocassionally gets too crowded. Of the two, I'd rather be sitting with a Panhead out on Air New Zealand's lovely terrace on a quiet day, but I'll happily stretch out in Strata. Anywhere beats wandering aimlessly around an airport terminal.

The real winner: You want to know what a real international premium lounge is like? Get yourself into one of Qantas' First Class lounges. I once had a massage in the Melbourne lounge from Kylie Minogue's favourite masseuse...