Book Reviews

An uplifting and positive read with great tips on adventuring in Aotearoa

- Karen Rollitt

Mary Somervell's Going AWOL is a fabulous book. It is very readable and once you start reading you do not want to stop. It is full of amazing adventures of intrepid women going on wonderful adventures. And these intrepid women need no previous experience! Motivation and determination are the key drivers for the ultimate benefits - happy, loving life and enjoying the environment we live in.

Going AWOL is full of amazing adventures interweaved with Mary's own biographical vignettes. The importance of moving and exploring is a theme throughout the book, along with beautiful descriptions and photos of the adventures of amazing women.

Mary's tales of adventure are inspirational and AWOL as the perfect antidote to getting contentment and self fulfillment in life. It is an uplifting and positive read, acknowledging the importance of conservation awareness whilst adventuring.

The book also provides inside knowledge and great tips for anyone embarking on adventure travel in New Zealand.

Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, is described as the wonderful and adventurous place it is and would highly recommend the book to anyone embarking on an adventure in this remarkable and beautiful land.

Insightful, thought provoking and good for the soul

- Catriona Barclay

Going AWOL is a delight: easy to read, insightful, thought provoking and good for the soul. Mary Somervell, AWOL’s author, shares her passion for organising adventuring groups for women in New Zealand. If you haven’t been to New Zealand yet, Somervell’s book and photos will certainly give you a taste of the landscape and the outdoor activities on offer.

Somervell shares a ‘warts and all’ account of these trips and is not afraid to admit that things do not always go according to plan. Her writing is accessible, honest, and engaging. Alongside summaries of the AWOL adventures she has organised, Somervell weaves in detail from her own life. Setting personal challenges, reconnecting with nature and with other AWOL members, are some of the tools she has used to restore her own physical health in times of injury. The author also emphasises the need for us to increase our physical activity as we age as this offers a degree of protection and possibly a faster recovery when facing physical setbacks. While not as active outdoors as the author, nor as ready to take on some of the challenges she describes in her book, this piece of advice resonates with me. Going AWOL has something for everyone.

A thought provoking read exploring how we can be more adventurous

- Jane Chisnall

'It’s time for an adventure. Pour yourself a favourite beverage, sit back and prepare to be taken on a journey that informs, entertains and challenges.

 In Going AWOL - Inspiration and Insights from Adventurous Women on the Loose - first-time author Mary Somervell takes us on a series of adventures that showcase some of the best scenery and experiences New Zealand has to offer. But she also takes us on another journey - one of self discovery.

Somervell has cleverly woven this second thread through her accounts of many diverse adventures she has organised for groups of women - hiking, diving, sailing an America’s Cup yacht, kayaking. Her love of the outdoors and keen eye for the beauty of flora and fauna shines through.

Top class photography - her own and husband Steve Vaughan’s (he’s an honorary member of Going AWOL) - accompany these accounts.

Somervell challenges us to think about some bigger issues - why we need adventure, and how it helps us mentally and physically. She shows us age shouldn’t be a barrier. She talks about friendships, good and bad, and how adventures create relationships and strengthen others.

She bluntly asks us to consider what’s stopping us being more adventurous. Good question.

Somervell discusses transitions in life. Like her adventures, things don’t always go to plan. But we learn resilience to carry us through. Adventuring - whether multi-day or just a few hours - fosters resilience.

Going AWOL is a thought-provoking read. Somervell has listed 20 adventures around New Zealand and how to get there, and offers a free guide to setting up a Going AWOL group.'

Gets you thinking 'maybe I could do that'!

- Gilly Booth

Going AWOL is an inspirational book about adventures in beautiful New Zealand. The author has the knack of drawing you into tales of her adventures with others and makes you think “Maybe I could do that” The questions at the end of each chapter are thought provoking and challenging with great quotes from people from all walks of life.

What is being adventurous, what can you do to lead your best life possible? It shows that just small adjustments to your mind set or little nudges outside of your comfort zone can make a big difference to both physical and mental health at any age. An easy and enjoyable read that also gets you thinking.

There's so much more to being adventurous ...

- Sarah Irvine

At first I thought it seemed easy to answer author Mary Somervell’s question on p 17 - ‘What does being adventurous mean to you’ – quite obviously sky diving, travel to exotic destinations, and eating fried crickets are some of the first adventures that sprang to mind.

But, as Mary intimately explores what being adventurous means to her through her own life stories, insights, and amusing anecdotes, she challenges you to look for adventure in the great outdoors, in your home, in your relationships, in every facet of life.

Mary takes you on a journey as she shares her passion for outdoor activities in New Zealand and her life adventures. She explores the adventure in transitioning from one phase of life to another, making changes, and forming relationships.

Going AWOL is an enjoyable and relatable read that challenges your perception of adventure and being adventurous. Perhaps devouring fried crickets is just as venturesome as transitioning to retirement. This is not just a book about how someone else’s life is more exciting and intrepid than yours, it is a book that inspires you to recognise what adventure is to you and to enjoy it throughout all phases of life. Life is an adventure – live it!

A wonderful book to uplift and inspire new or current adventurers

- Bea Pole-Bokor

This book will lift you up, inspire you and take you on amazing adventures around New Zealand. It is for adventurers, or those of you who might be dreaming about going on one. Who get excited about leaving your comfort zone, or perhaps you are scared, yet there is something in there for you. Who love nature, and those of you who would love to spend more time in nature.

Who have a group of like-minded friends, or those who might be right now feeling lonely, looking to connect and share life experiences, trips and transformation together!

This book is waiting for you and it will take you on a wonderful adventure.

Great ideas for outdoor adventuring

- Margaret Davidson

Mary writes about specific examples of challenging but achievable outdoor adventures that she undertakes with friends - from Harley Davidson riding, snowshoeing and bushwalking to scuba diving. All these adventures are possible to experience in New Zealand and are inspiring, uplifting and fun to read about. She writes in an easy-to-read, descriptive style with a positive, joie-de-vivre approach.

There is an interesting balance of personal comments, as well as comments by the other AWOL adventure participants, all which are supported by stunning photographs and insightful quotes. After reading this book you want to get out there into the beautiful natural environment and enjoy it all.

Going AWOL Book Cover.jpg

Going AWOL

Our first book, takes you on an exhilarating journey with interesting women to explore scenic destinations around New Zealand.

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Optimism and Gratitude Shines Through Poems

- Debra Bradley

Mary Somervell’s poetry has an easy conversational style that emphasises the elemental and enduring landforms of Aotearoa. There is a strong ecological awareness throughout, and the writing is alive to time, place and season.

Optimism and gratitude shines through these poems. Even if our shaky isles offer challenging and rugged landscapes, they are a living embodiment of resilience, and give us what we need to heal.

Debra Bradley (New Zealand)

Thoughtful and Beautiful Visual and Written Scenes

- Sylvia Bauer

The photographs are crisp and stunning, rich with colour and the perspectives unusual. Mary's complementary poetic interpretations lend rich experiences to the photos.

The photographs invite you to share once-in-a-lifetime moments through new lenses, from close and distant, both above and below the water. It was so hard to choose, but I especially loved the photos of moody Ladies Bay, the steely blue of the dolphin and sea, the shell glowing in its bank and the ice cream sky at Castle Rock.

Mary Somervell's writing is tender, playful, celebratory, and full of spirit and imagery. Her layered observations and connections give relatable and deeper meaning to the places and peoples, to moments, journeys and our lives.

Also hard to choose, but here are some of my favourite lines from selected poems:         

Stand in the mist

and feel all trouble melt. 


We see [the tui’s] blue-green satin drag, 

and watch him, fancy acrobat, swing on a limb


[The heron] teaches us to Taihoa. Let your life

 catch up with you. Peace rises like fish.


In this world we are 

bound by gravity to live

under the same stars.


When your pulse matches the slow rhythm

of the rain, the rough becomes the smooth.


This beautiful book is an experience, and the perfect memento for travellers to New Zealand and the Pacific. It’s also the best inspiration to visit and make memories of your own, or a wonderful stand-in for those who armchair travel.

Give it as a treasured gift or take a mini break with the authors in Aotearoa’s most restful and rejuvenating spots, and feel connected to nature and life. I’m so glad I saw my corner of the Pacific through their eyes.

Sylvia Bauer – Editor and director: Clear Edit NZ

A Reminder to Stop, Look and Listen

- Sarah Irvine

A Poetic Journey Through Aotearoa reminds us to take time out to explore a “resuscitated pōhutakawa forest”, to reflect on thought-provoking poetic musings that capture the plight of local avifauna ...

... to leave terra firma to be plunged into the depths of the marine world, and glimpse moody landscapes that remind us of the dynamic canvas of Aotearoa. It is a stunning journey through which Mary and Steve share their passion for exploring and capturing moments in time and space to leave us with an appreciation of taking time to stop, look, and listen for what might be just around the next corner. 

Got to Go to New Zealand Now

- Wendy Sidwell

I have not been to New Zealand. After mentally vacationing through, 'A Poetic Journey Through Aotearoa' with Mary Somervell’s poetry and Steven Vaughan’s photography, I am booking a flight.

The images of beaches, mountains, sunrises, sunsets, marine life and feathered friends, have captivated my heart to experience this island's beauty.  Add to that the insightful and sometimes haunting poetry with every photo, and I’m hooked.  

Such an exquisite and unique way to share the unmatched beauty of New Zealand, for those of us that may or may not make a trip there.  

I especially loved how the poems for each photo reflected some of the history, human moments and of nature being it’s perfect self.

Thank you for this exceptional work of art!

Wendy Sidwell (Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada)

A Harmonious Interweave of Images and Poems

- Vicky Jackson

The idea and the production provide a wonderful visual imagery. Vision through the eyes from the photographs and 'vision' through the ears in the complementary writing. The balance of these two visions gives a harmonious pattern throughout the book.

The photographs are excellent. Many are stunning shots with colour, balance and creativity. Some show movement, often through water, others show mood and the wonders of New Zealand animal and bird life. A few are a little too busy.

The prose and poems always link with the photograph providing a continuity in whatever theme is foremost. I like the way that the words place the imagery within a cultural context, or a place, or at a time for you both. Perhaps the latter connection is the one I find does not work so well.

The combinations that I like the most are where a particular close up image (bird, fish, shells) is described as that one feature. I find the bigger views, the more generalised photos lead to a more generalised description that I do not like so much. The words then seem to try to cover too big a story.

My favourites are: Hiding Hihi (page 14), Perfect Imperfection (page 24), Tauhou Latecomer (page 64) and Clarity (page 82). 

I think this book will be of interest to those who like reading poems, those who like to dip into a book, those who love the environment of New Zealand and maybe those who are new to New Zealand but want to learn more.

- Vicky Jackson (New Zealand)

A Poetic Journey through Aotearoa

Our latest book takes you on a different kind of journey on land and sea throughout New Zealand with a glimpse of the Pacific.

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