A Rotorua teenager has just returned from the trip of a lifetime to the sub-Antarctic on board HMNZS Otago.

Rotorua Boys' High School student Tamahauiti Potaka, 17, was one of 14 students chosen from around the country by the Sir Peter Blake Trust to travel to the Auckland Islands, below Stewart Island and just above Antarctica.

Sally Paterson from the Sir Peter Blake Trust said the students swapped their cellphones for wet weather gear and helped leading scientists work on science projects that would inform decisions on climate change for New Zealand.

The students got to work with the scientists on terrestrial and marine ecology and geology projects, including close-up encounters with sea lions, albatross and penguins.

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Tamahauiti said the experience was life-changing.

"It has changed my experience of the world by giving me an understanding of how my actions in a place far away can affect the smallest living things in other places."

He said that while he loved the entire trip he did have a favourite memory.

"Laying down on the Ranui lookout and looking over the northern part of the island, it was just breathtaking. It made you just think about how little humans are."

Tamahauiti said he was still exploring his options when it came to career decisions, but for the time being he wanted to spread the word about climate change and how people needed to take action and not leave it until it was too late.

He said working with the scientists was different from what he expected.

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"I was expecting them to be more formal, but they were just genuine human beings, all with the common interest of figuring out how to sustain and respect our world."

He urged young people to think twice about what they were doing when it came to protecting the earth.

"We need to think about how it's going to impact, not just our future, but the future of the world." He also wanted to thank the Sir Peter Blake Trust for the amazing opportunity.

The expedition was a partnership between the Sir Peter Blake Trust, Royal New Zealand Navy, Department of Conservation, New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute, Niwa, Kelly Tarlton's, Ministry of Education, Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Youth Development.