I'm scared of eating octopus. All those suckers and tentacles? No thanks.
But as I sat in a new fine-dining restaurant on Sydney's waterfront, celebrating the opening of the transtasman bubble, I thought if there was ever a time to get out of my comfort zone then this was the moment.
It's been such a long time since I last travelled internationally, I forgot one of the things I love about it the most - it always makes me try new things. I become a braver, more adventurous person overseas.
While Kiwis have been busy exploring our own backyard over the last year, Sydney's been making itself new again. Here are the latest offerings in the Big Smoke - octopus optional.
Smart technology. A vibrant neighbourhood. A gorgeous rooftop bar. A deliciously comfortable bed. Little National opened in September 2020 as a chic, affordable luxury hotel. The rooms are compact, but cleverly designed so there's everything you need and nothing you don't. Located next to Wynyard Station, key Sydney attractions are all within walking distance, or easily accessible on public transport. There's a great rooftop bar but no restaurant at the hotel, which means guests can make the most of the dynamic dining scene in the area.
Other new hotels include the Crowne Plaza Sydney Darling Harbour, Crown Sydney, which is in the city's tallest building in the newly developed Barangaroo precinct, or Fullerton Hotel in Martin Place; a beautiful historic building.
Barangaroo is Sydney's latest waterfront dining precinct, which has been slowly opening up over the last few years. The Crown Hotel, towering at 271.3m, opened in December 2020, along with its unique open-kitchen restaurant, Woodcut.
With three open kitchens, Woodcut offers a bespoke dining experience with an emphasis on cooking using wood, charcoal and steam.
And here's where the octopus comes in. I asked the server for her recommendations to celebrate the best of Australian cuisine and the first thing she pointed to was the octopus. My fate was sealed. There was no hiding what it looked like on my plate, but I blocked the tentacles from my mind and chomped down a delicious, smokey entree with charcuterie dressing and skordalia. My main, tenderloin steak with Paris butter, practically dissolved in my mouth.
For an affordable but hearty lunch option in Barangaroo, try Belles Chicken for Nashville-style hot chicken and natural wine. Formerly a pop-up store, it now has a permanent home on Barangaroo Ave on the waterfront. Think fried chicken sliders and tenders ranging in spiciness from "southern" to "sex panther".
Another exciting new dining and drinking precinct is South Eveleigh, near Redfern Station. The former railway sheds are being restored and transformed, with a number of eateries already open. It's still a work in progress but be sure you have a drink at Re, a pioneering zero-waste bar on Locomotive St.
For breakfast, Hester's Cafe and Bar on Carrington Street makes classic breakfasts with pizzazz - and of course, great coffee. My poached eggs on toast were amped up with piles of shaved leg ham and salsa verde - a dish the barista told me was fast becoming a locals' favourite.
Further down on King St, Sammy Junior is a classy new coffee and cocktail cafe. Start the day with smashed avo on toast with feta and chilli - just a hint of a morning kick without overpowering the dish - and return late afternoon for cocktails.
Take a guided cultural tour through the restored Barangaroo Reserve to learn about the area and its cultural and historical significance to the Aboriginal people. More than 80 native plant species have been planted here; 79 of them are endemic to the area. It's a beautiful public space with walking and cycling paths, which are made from crushed sandstone to recreate the original reserve.
Wander past the precinct's art installations and head along the waterfront for some eating and shopping; get lost (in a good way) at Title, one of the best independent books and record stores I've visited in a long time. Grab a sweet treat and long black at Shortstop Coffee & Donuts, or something stronger at either Shirt Bar or Australia's first vermouth bar, Banksii.
For another cultural education, head to The Rocks this month for Sculpture Rocks, a free outdoor exhibition of Japanese sculpture running between May 20 and June 3. The exhibition showcases the works of a number of Japanese artists, most of them made from stone.
One of the highlights of visiting Sydney this year is the musical Hamilton, the head-bopping story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton blending hip-hop, jazz and R&B music. Grab a bite to eat before the show at upmarket Japanese restaurant Sokyo first before having your socks blown off in awe of the big show energy at the Sydney Lyric Theatre.
For a truly invigorating adventure, head out with Sophie Morgan from Oz Paddle on a sunrise kayaking trip on Sydney Harbour. While not a brand new experience, it offers a new perspective of the city, as you paddle past Fort Denison, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, bathed in the dawn light, while riding the odd wave from the Manly Ferry.
Sophie's knowledge of the harbour and surrounding landmarks is phenomenal and she'll be sure to capture as many photographs of you in action.
DETAILSAir New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Sydney, with return Seat fares from $180.
Please check the latest border restrictions in each state and territory before travelling. For more information visit australia.com