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With 63 entries to consider, our judges didn’t have an easy task of selecting winners for the 2014 Photo Contest: The Wonders of Oceania. The judges remarked that the photos certainly represented AUIP’s experiential programs very comprehensively.

After scrutinizing each entry though, the results are in, and we’re excited to share with you this year’s photo contest winners as follows:

Learning on the Trail into Mt. Cook; NZ; Taylor YeatesExperiential Classroom

First: Learning on the Trail into Mt. Cook by Taylor Yeates from Buckeyes Abroad New Zealand program (pictured left)

Second: Hiking in Hidden Valley Gorge by Olivia Cheney from Wake Forest University’s Australia program

Third: Snorkeling at Barefoot Island by Hannah Kunz from Aggies Abroad Fiji program

Natural Attraction

First: Adelies Away! by Amanda Wilson Carter from the Hokies Abroad Antarctica program (pictured right)

Second: Blue Painted Sky over Port Douglas Shore by Georgia Parks from the Aggies Abroad Australia programAdelies Away!; ANTA; Amanda Wilson Carter

Third: The Otago Peninsula just before Sunset by Hannah Berry from Wolfpack Abroad New Zealand program

And, at the time People’s Choice Award voting closed, the AUIP extended community elected winners to be:

Experiential Classroom with 116 votes: To experience and report on the world “down under”, my classmates and I swam down under off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in Australia by Rachel Robillard from The University of Texas at Austin’s Journalism in South Queensland, Australia program

Natural Attraction with 140 votes: Neature by Hannah Kunz from Aggies Abroad Australia program

All winners are asked to please email donna@auip.com their postal mailing address for delivery of their prize.

AUIP wishes to thank the generous sponsors, City Lodge Auckland, Cape Tribulation Beach House Resort, Calypso Coaches, Murrays, Hexagon International, Downunder Farmstays, Pinewood Lodge and Bungalow Bay. The sponsors provided the winners for both categories these prizes:

First Place: Apple iPad mini (valued at $300) donated by City Lodge Auckland in New Zealand and Cape Tribulation Beach House Resort in Australia

Second Place: GoPro HERO3: White Edition camera (valued at $200) donated by Calypso Coaches and Murrays, both in Australia

Third Place: Chaco Yampa sandals (valued at $100) donated by Hexagon International in Fiji and Downunder Farmstays in Australia

People’s Choice Award: North Face duffel bag donated by Pinewood Lodge in New Zealand and Bungalow Bay in Australia

Thanks to all our alumni who participated in the contest. And please keep sharing and liking photos on our AUIP page, as regardless of whether a contest is happening or not, we love to see alumni memories from our programs!

Evan Tipton, the Grizzlies Abroad marketing intern, writes:

New Zealand wintermester 2010-11“What is your favorite place?” Is a question you hear a lot as a professional in the travel and tourism industry. Every time I hear it, I give the same heartfelt answer, “The South Island of New Zealand, hands down.” During the winter of 2010-11, I got to spend five weeks in New Zealand on AUIP’s Sustainability study abroad course.

Given my professional commitment to sustaining wild places and indigenous cultures and my personal passion for the work, it made great sense to fly 7,887 miles around the globe to study in New Zealand. The adventure turned out to be the best travel experience of my life, and the most rewarding learning opportunity. Sure, swimming with 800 dusky dolphins in the wild, rafting the Hokitika River, plunging into Maori culture, and hiking in the sublime Southern Alps were worth writing home about, and so were the life-long friendships I forged on the trip. But its luminous, lasting lesson came through the experiential power of such hands-on academic work to broaden and deepen my vision of our globe’s fragile natural and social ecology.

As the new marketing intern for Grizzlies Abroad at the University of Montana, I look forward to sharing my New Zealand NZ Milford Soundexperience with students across campus. Don’t just take it from me; heed the wise words of prophets and saints when it comes to travel and learning, and then see for yourself!

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” – Mohammed

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Amanda Ferguson, 2014 North Queensland student blogger, writes:

Thursday, May 29

If being in Australia wasn’t magical enough, swimming with Nemo and his friends certainly was far more than I could have imagined. I think many of my classmates would agree that while every event on this trip has been spectacular, they’ve all been stops on the road to the reef. Honestly, the Great Barrier Reef was the best place to end our stay here in Australia.

Free diving down while snorkeling on the GBR

Free diving underwater while snorkeling on the GBR

This was my first time snorkeling, but Eye to Eye Marine Encounters let us first-timers test out the snorkeling gear at the hotel pool before we jumped into open waters. Soon though we were out on the boat, adorned in black ninja suits (a.k.a. wetsuits) and snorkel gear, and face to face with Nemo’s home. If you can’t tell, I’m a fan of Disney’s Finding Nemo, so I was tickled pink see actual clownfish poking their heads out of anemones as depicted in the opening scenes of the movie.

The coral itself was also just as beautiful, and lots of other fish were present for the party as well, including butterflyfish, grouper, parrot fish, and even a couple of blacktip sharks! On the last day we even managed to swim with a couple of Pacific green sea turtles. It was really a majestic sight to see these creatures as they gracefully glided in and out of the reef. It was like the ocean version of a horse riding into the sunset.

One of the Pacific green sea turtles encountered

One of the Pacific green sea turtles encountered

It was also interesting to learn how everything in the reef is interconnected. For example, the grinding of the parrot fish as they feed on debris on the coral is actually what orients the baby polyps to swimming back towards the reef. The coral are also able to influence cloud cover for UV protection, which eventually float more inland and contribute to the location of rainforest formation.

This experience really was a great reminder of why I believe sustainability is so important. It is an example of the planet’s beauty we could potentially lose if climate change is not taken seriously. And honestly as I travel back home to Ohio, that’s probably the main thing that is going to stick with me from this trip. I will always remember the beauty of the land, but it’s the discussions of sustainability to maintain those places that will have a lasting impact on my perspective.

These were truly unique places that we were lucky enough to visit, but if I were being honest, it’s a real concern that these some of places could be gone in the next ten years, especially when you realize how interconnected they all are. The reef in particular, while being a great resource to the fishing, shipping, and tourism industries amongst others, is also extremely sensitive to change. A 2 degrees increase in temperature would be enough to have serious effects on the ecosystem.

The requisite O-H-I-O at sunset

The requisite O-H-I-O at sunset

Australia doesn’t have all the answers, but it is doing a couple more things right that we aren’t all doing in America. I’m so glad I was able to experience all that I have in the past 25 days. It’s definitely been widely educational and life changing. For everyone who’s been reading these posts, thank you for reading! And thank you AUIP and everyone we met for a wonderful experience!

Amanda Ferguson, 2014 North Queensland student blogger, writes:

Thursday, May 22

G’day, mates! After the farmstay, I now have an accent! I’m just kidding, I still sound very American, but on the Atherton Tablelands with my host family was a chance to hear a variety of the local lingo.

“Keen as mustard” meaning smart and enthusiastic and “bloke” instead of man were two phrases I heard quite often. They also used the word “nice” in places where Americans typically use the word good, particularly when we were talking about food. Honestly those farmstay meals were some of the best I’ve had on this program. I guess no matter where you are, nothing beats home cooking.

Friendly horses at the farmstay

We talked about some other differences between Australian and American food. For one, ketchup is called tomato sauce in Australia. A few other American to Aussie translations include candy is lolly, cookie is biscuit and cantaloupe is rockmelon. Also ranch dressing is not common, much to my dismay.

We also had a chance to interact with and feed the horses and cattle, which my farmstay classmates and I definitely enjoyed. The horses were extremely friendly.

After that, we were off to Tyrconnell Historic Gold Mine. Here we took an even closer look at plant adaptations to Australia’s hot dry land. The bowerbird in particular was interesting to hear about because it’s mating ritual is so unusual. The male bird builds a bower out of twigs and then collects different colored trinkets such as glass, bottle caps or shells to create a pathway leading up to the bower where it will perform a dance of sorts to impress females. These structures can become fairly intricate which is pretty impressive for one small bird to do.

Tyrconnell sunset

The best part of this Outback location though was the stargazing. Illuminated diamonds fill the sky in literally every direction while the Milky Way cut through the background. Sleeping outside, that was the view I had while falling asleep.

Now we’re in Port Douglas venturing out to the Great Barrier Reef. My stay here in Australia is almost over, but I have no doubts that the reef will make a perfect ending to this great adventure!

Amanda Ferguson, 2014 North Queensland student blogger, writes:

Sunday, May 10

This week we’ve been kicking it at Eco Village at Mission Beach. The Wet Tropics rainforest and local Aboriginal culture have been the topics of discussion during our lectures and field excursions.

The Aboriginals really had a unique connection to the land. We learned from the Nywaigi people that historically they ate green ants as a source of vitamin C. To eat it, you bite off the bulbous green part. Of course, I had to try it and was surprised it actually was fairly tasty! Who needs vitamins when you can just eat ants?

Kayaking with Ingan Tours

Kayaking with Ingan Tours

We also spent a day with Ingan Tours for a kayaking trip and a cultural session, which both were loads of fun. I think the Aboriginal culture definitely has a lot to contribute to not only Australian culture, but also conservation efforts simply because they know so much of the land. Their culture developed directly from their relationship to the land. While many traditions may not be compatible with contemporary societal views, I believe we could learn a lot just from finding out how the Aboriginal people worked with the land instead of just taking from it. We only had a short exposure to Aboriginal culture, but the rainforest we spent some further time in.

Wet Tropics rainforest at Mission Beach

Wet Tropics rainforest at Mission Beach

Of course the rainforest was as wet as its name mentions, but the vegetation was probably some of the most large and luscious I have ever seen. Large could also be said about the spiders. The palm fans and beautiful trees though kept me well distracted enough that I didn’t even mind those eight-legged creepies. The rainforest while beautiful, is really a battle between each of the plants fighting for sunlight and space. The Mission Beach area in total is home to more than 70 species of birds, frogs, butterflies, wallabies, lizards and much more.

The cassowary, Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, is another interesting creature that makes its home in this region. With glossy black plumage, a vivid blue neck and dinosaur-like helmet on top of its head, it is honestly one of the strangest creatures I have ever seen. The cassowary plays a vital role in dispersing seeds of key rainforest flora species, so its presence here is crucial.

Looking up at the rainforest canopy

Looking up at the rainforest canopy

It’s time to move on though and, with all the mosquitoes we’ve endured, we’re ready to leave by this point. Next is the homestay; farm life here we come!

Amanda Ferguson, 2014 North Queensland student blogger, writes:

The water! The rocks! The sky! If I were to write a poem about my stay here in Australia so far that is what it would be. No kidding though, everything is wonderful here.

Arrival at Bungalow Bay on Magnetic Island was immediately followed by a trip to the beach. Sand between my toes with a blue-sky breeze and a postcard view in front of me, that’s when it hit me—I’m in Australia! That was only the first of many beautiful encounters I’ve had with nature here.

Running River Gorge

Running River Gorge

We recently took a trip to a place called Hidden Valley Cabins, an eco resort in the bush. Tony, our guide, along with his family have worked to make the place as sustainable as possible, even converting their primary energy source to solar panels.

We’ve already gone on a number of hikes through a variety of terrains, but my favorite would have to be the one Tony guided us on into Running River Gorge. After a steep hike, we reached the river nestled in between the most beautiful rock formations. It was unreal. And it was so awe-inspiring to be floating right in the middle of it all and feel so small compared to the majesty of nature around me. A close second was catching the sunset from the top of the Forts hike back on Magnetic Island where I also got to see a juvenile koala in the wild. It’s only been a week, but it has certainly been a magical experience already.

Amanda Ferguson, 2014 North Queensland student blogger, writes:

Adventure is out there! That is my main expectation for this program in Australia. Other than that, my prospects are mainly filled with questions. There are sure to be koalas and kangaroos, and the dry Outback along with the wet rainforests, but what else is out there? Who will I meet? What are the predominant ideas and customs? Do they have a preferable condiment other than ketchup for their fries? You can bet I am more than excited to find out.

Amanda will soon be enjoying this view on Magnetic Island

Amanda will soon be enjoying this view on Magnetic Island

Tomorrow I board the airplane that will take me thousands of miles away to the foreign lands of North Queensland. Soon I will actually be studying abroad. The Ohio State program I will be a part of is called Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment. I know that even with as much environmental study as I’ve done, I’m sure there will be so much more to learn. I’m sure this journey will not be limited to just new experiences but new perspectives as well.

I’ve been a suburban city kid my whole life, and even though I have a love for nature, I know my experience with it is very limited. Park forests are certainly enjoyable, but they are merely a glimpse of what this world has to offer. Human history is only the dust collecting on the statue of evolutionary history. I am only a speck in its existence, but as a speck I have the luxury of being able to explore it and observe it.

I am so thrilled to spend not only a whole program in Australia, but at the same time while I admire its beauty learn about ways we as humans can also sustain it. The beauty of being humans is our unique role to be the ones to finally admire all that earth has become. Beauty is only in the eye of the beholder. Beauty cannot exist without the eye of the beholder. I am so ready for this adventure to begin.

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