I have always had a fear of insects. Not even the smallest of ants survives when I am around. The thought of spindly little legs and beady faces creeping anywhere near me is enough to give me a cold sweat and heart palpitations.
I'm the kid who jumps as if I've been Tasered if I see any kind of bug - the bigger it is, the louder the shriek.
I'm the first to admit it's ridiculous. I'm a police reporter - I deal with all kinds of situations and people daily without batting an eyelash. Given what I do for a job, I guess little-bitty-bugs shouldn't faze me. But they do.
It's this thought that's running through my mind when I walk into Auckland Zoo's "weta workshop". Lined with cages from floor to ceiling containing weta of various sizes, the portable building is used to breed and raise weta punga, aka the giant weta from Little Barrier Island.
"They are the biggest insect in the world, and the heaviest," ectotherms keeper Ben Goodwin tells me, doing little to help my blood pressure.
He takes a female from her cage, promising me she won't bite, jump or attack. His assurance doesn't help me as I eye her up and consider pulling out of this experiment. Seconds later, she's on my hand and all I can hear - over Ben's instructions and photographer Dean Purcell's camera going off - is my heart beating in my ears.
I can feel sweat beading on my face and my hand starts to shake.
She scampers up my arm, her feelers waving around in front and her little nipper things going like the clappers, tasting my arm for food.
She moves much more quickly than I expected and it took every ounce of willpower not to squeal like a 4-year-old girl, flick her off and run out the door.
She was lighter than I expected, and the closer she got, the less beastly she looked. Ben retrieved her before she got too close to my hair - which would have been the end of one of us - and popped her back on my hand.
Feeling a bit braver, I manoeuvred her from one arm to the other a couple of times before I pulled the pin. Luckily for me, but much to the disappointment of Dean, posing with the weta on my face was vetoed.
A bit more relaxed with the wee creeper off my skin, I listened as Ben explained the breeding programme at the zoo and why weta are so important to New Zealand. (They're vital to the ecological systems of their natural environment, eating dead foliage and producing nutrient-rich waste that fertilises new foliage growth - among other things.)
As she went back into her cage, I realised I had been holding my breath. Even though the first thing Ben said was that weta punga were extremely docile, I had been waiting for her to jump at my face, attack me with her spiky legs and then sink her giant fangs and claws into my eyeball.
As he closed the cage door, I felt a wave of relief. Getting that close to the biggest of all bugs was a big deal.
Once the feeling of little limbs had left my skin, I realised what an impact the experience had had on me. I'll never like any kind of critters big or small but I think the element of fear is gone.
And I definitely have a newfound respect for the weta punga.
Wetas at Auckland Zoo
• The weta punga are housed at the Te Wao Nui exhibit, which spreads across a fifth of the zoo's grounds and houses animals, insects, reptiles, plants and birds unique to New Zealand. It has 75 native species and more than 100 native plants. It also has interactive displays for visitors to relate to New Zealand's culture and heritage and vital conservation initiatives.
• The zoo offers a behind-the-scenes experience, which includes meeting weta punga, for $95.