New Zealand capital Wellington is a frequent stopover for business travellers heading across the ditch, with numerous flights serving regional economic hubs thanks to politician-driven demand.
While the Air New Zealand international lounge at the airport is unimpressive, Wellington's domestic Koru lounge -- where you'll wait for those onward regional flights -- is much better, with numerous spaces to tuck yourself away for some work or a snack.
I've spent a lot of time in this lounge over the last couple of years, and the view over Wellington's hills makes it one of my favourite lounges in the region -- despite several idiosyncrasies I'll explain below.
Location & Impressions
The Koru lounge sits above gates 10-17, the main Air NZ domestic gates.
After the checkin/bag drop area, pass through the central walkway into the departures lounge, turn left and head past the Wishbone shop (where you may want to pick up a decent lunch and a drink for your flight).
Past the Fuel coffee kiosk you'll see signs for the Koru Lounge, pointing up the escalator.
Note that there's a separate escalator exit at the back of the lounge that drops you handily down into the Air NZ domestic gates (10-17) when it's time to leave. Regional turboprop flights from gates 4-9 are a few minutes' walk back along the corridor, with gates 20-29 and the international terminal the other side of the main departures lounge.
The general ambience is Air New Zealand's countrywide "Kiwi bach" (New Zealand wooden beachhouse) theme.
Lots of exposed wood, a seafoam paintjob and a bit of rustic Kiwiana (like the penguin made of corrugated iron) strewn around.
If you already have your Air NZ boarding pass (whether paper, 2D QR barcode on your phone, or an Air NZ electronic fob) you just swipe your way in. If you don't, the staff are cheery, helpful and happy to check you in.
Lounge staffers also have special powers over seating, with access to the extra-legroom seats on flights. It's worth having a quick chat with them to check you're in the best possible seat.
Air New Zealand's Works Deluxe passengers have access to the lounge, as do people connecting internationally from Auckland on a same-day business class ticket.
Frequent flyers get in flying Air New Zealand domestic and brandishing a:
- Air New Zealand Airpoints Gold or Gold Elite card
- Virgin Australia Velocity Gold or Platinum card
- Virgin Australia Lounge membership
- Star Alliance Gold card
You can also buy your way in: NZ$35 for up to four hours' access or $55 for over four hours.
(There's no access before the last flight of the day, Air NZ's "Night Rider" service.)
Virgin Australia passengers heading across the Tasman also have access in the hours prior to the Virgin checkin desks opening 2.5 hours before your departure.
That's especially useful for the afternoon Brisbane-bound flight, DJ69 at 1600, where checkin doesn't open until 1330, since your hotel is likely to turf you out before then.
During my most recent lunchtime visit the buffet area was well-stocked with interesting salads and cold food.
Large blocks of cheese and chutney are available for a jolt of protein.
The usual cookies and slices can be found too, if you have a sweet tooth.
New Zealand wine is showcased, with my pick of the current batch the Trinity Hill Merlot from Hawke's Bay or the Forrest Sav from Marlborough.
The signs admonishing you not to take a bottle to your table are pretty tacky, though.
Beer fans will be pleased by the range of bottled NZ brews, with a particularly good range of Mac's beers lurking at the bottom of the fridge in addition to the usual Speights and Steinlager, plus some interesting apple and pear ciders.
Barista coffee is on offer throughout the day, of varying quality and skill depending on which staffer is on duty. (It's been my experience that the morning staffers tend to be better at coffee than the afternoon crew.)
While there's a decent range of laptop-on-knees chair options for people of various heights, finding a power point in the lounge is annoyingly tricky.
There's a couple of long power point-enabled tabled near the dining area, but the chairs are annoyingly bolted to the floor so you're irritatingly limited in the angle at which you can sit. (I'm 188cm/6'2" -- tall, but not abnormally so -- and my knees didn't fit under the tables, and my elbows weren't at a comfortable typing angle.)
Power points dot the outside walls of the lounge, but they're installed too low on the wall and close to the floor to be able to use a power brick without an extension cord -- so MacBook users in particular, beware.
If you do have a compatible power cable and want to spread out, there are a couple of good-sized tables and chairs past the barista, but you'll want to make sure you have a fairly long power cable.
Handy for anyone with papers, passengers who want to nibble as they work without balancing plates on side tables, and for people who need to charge several devices from their laptops' USB connections.
Two small cupboard-like quiet rooms sit round the back if you require silence, but there's a large bookable meeting room near the front entrance that's much more pleasant.
Wifi throughout the lounge requires the username and login from the front desk: it's the "koruclub2" network, "koruclub" as your username and then a password, usually an Air New Zealand destination. Make a mental note as you walk past: it's usually the same password across all Air NZ lounges, and it changes on the first of every month.
The Internet runs at a good speed within New Zealand, but anything international suffers from the usual Internet trunk line capacity problems in the Land of the Long White Loading Bar.
I managed 10.2 Mbps down and 0.62 Mbps up with a ping of 21 ms to an Auckland server.
To Sydney, however, it's a much less impressive 2.1 Mbps down and 0.65 Mbps up with a ping of 61 ms.
That means that international website will be slower. For instance, YouTube worked fine, but streaming ABC News 24 via VPN didn't.
My favourite spot for chilling out is to the far right hand side of the lounge as you walk in, right next to the large corrugated iron penguin. (Yes, of course there's a corrugated iron penguin.)
There are comfortable seats, a great view over the runway to Wellington, and on windy days it's entertaining, if slightly nerve-wracking, to watch planes bouncing around Wellington's notorious wind gusts.
(Anecdote time: on a particularly windy day -- even for Wellington -- last year, I was watching from the lounge as a Qantas flight came into land and then aborted, going around for another try. From the other side of the lounge came a mocking Kiwi shout: "Chucken!")
The far end around to the left is another good spot to take advantage of the attractive Wellington views.
Keep an eye out for one of the Air Chathams 1940s-built Convair planes, which are still in use out to the Chatham Islands.
Tolkien fans won't want to miss the glass cabinet with airplane models featuring various Lord of the Rings characters, found to the far left side of the lounge as you walk in, past the bathrooms and showers. And Hobbit mania is currently in full force, with a giant Lego Gandalf and Bilbo in the middle of the lounge.
And speaking of showers, if you need to wash off the grime of a day's toil before getting on a plane there are facilities within the lounge, with upmarket Pacifica toiletries.
The "Kiwi bach" theme doesn't stack up to Qantas' or Virgin Australia's more stylish lounge offerings, and the facilities could use an upgrade to take account of the number of connected, power-point seeking travellers flying through the New Zealand capital.
But for a domestic lounge, Air NZ's Wellington operation is firmly the best in the country. (Of course, Air NZ is the only airline with a domestic lounge network, so there's no real competition.)
It's large enough you can almost always find a seat, near the Air NZ gates, with lots of windows, a great view, a respectable food and drink offering and friendly, efficient staff.