Western Wonders: We Chat with Western Australia Travel Guru Johanna Castro

Meet Jo Castro – your friendly West Australia travel specialist!

When visiting Australia, most travellers are sure to make a beeline to Sydney’s iconic harbour, to the lively beach culture of the Gold Coast or to Melbourne’s trendy shopping districts. But there’s obviously more to the country that these attractions – including the rugged beauty and vastness that is Western Australia.

Thankfully, potential tourists interested in learning more about what Western Australia has to offer now have Johanna Castro as a guide. Through her blog zigazag.com, the WA local shares tips on where to eat and stay throughout the expansive Aussie state and provides plenty of inspiration for either short-term or long-term getaways.

Johanna recently took the time to chat with us about the philosophy behind the blog, her top WA sightseeing recommendations and of course, her input on the best hotel stays WA has to offer:

What inspired you to start ZigaZag?

When we were thinking of moving to Australia from South Africa and I was doing Internet research, I found it hard to find good images and information about Bunbury, the regional town in South West Australia where we were headed. When we arrived, and as we began exploring, I fell in love with the area and its incredible diversity and decided (ha ha!) it was time to tell the world all about it too! Since then, Lonely Planet has also been waxing lyrical about the Margaret River region and The Kimberley in particular, and tourism bodies have become much more proactive in promoting WA as a whole.

On your site, you write about being an “empty nester” and wanting to try out new things now that your children no longer live at home. How would you say your philosophy on travel has changed at this stage of your life?

When our children were growing up we lived in nine different countries but when we went on holiday we were part of the bucket and spade brigade, and family trips revolved around doing things which the children enjoyed. Our philosophy as ‘empty nesters’ has changed in that we now enjoy going on ‘quests’ and our trips away often revolve around either doing an activity that results in achieving something or finding out interesting things about a place…especially in relation to my blog. My hubby enjoys helping with the photography, we talk to the locals, we dive into the essence of a place, and if we’re overseas then we like to immerse ourselves within the local culture. I think our philosophy is really to go deeper, have a better understanding of people and places … find out what makes a place what it is, rather than just scratching the surface in an ‘eat and run’ sort of way.

What would you say are the biggest misconceptions people tend to have about Western Australia?

Forget what you may have heard…
Jo says Perth is anything but boring!

That it’s all flat! It isn’t…head south to the Southern Forests and the region around Albany.

That Perth is boring! Perth is a vibrant city (and evolving). A fabulous new waterfront is being constructed this year. The arts are alive and well, the cycle paths are fabulous, the river (The Swan) is always beautiful as is so King’s Park, and the restaurants are world class. Shall I go on?!

That WA is too far away, too remote, and that there are only wide open spaces when you get there. It is far away…in fact, it’s quicker to fly to Bali from WA than any other Australian city, but it’s worth the trip. WA isn’t about ‘man made’ attractions or huge shopping malls, but rather it’s about incredible, mostly untouched natural beauty. Having said that, there are quaint regional towns in the South West and in the Margaret River region where you can visit gorgeous beaches, do a wine tour and perhaps a cave tour, plus indulge in a little shopping – all in a day if you like.

What are absolute must-dos for first-time WA visitors?

Perth: King’s Park, a river cruise to Fremantle, take the ferry and spend a day on Rottnest Island, visit The Bell Tower on the waterfront, cycle around the banks of the Swan River.

Head south to the southern forests. Visit Pemberton and if you’re brave, climb the huge old fire look-out trees such as The Gloucester Tree that rises over 72 metres high. Then visit Valley of the Giants in Walpole.

Visit the historic town of Albany with its quaint old buildings and perhaps go hiking in the Porongurups, a small mountain range nearby.

If you have time, drive or fly to Esperance, renowned for its many beaches and white, squeaky sand. It also has the notorious claim to fame that parts of the American SkyLab fell to earth here in the 1979!

Spend a few days in the Margaret River region, wining and dining in particular. There are around 200 wineries and a huge selection of cellar doors with restaurants serving truly world class food. When you’re full up, then visit some of the long, often empty beaches. Enjoy the spectacular caves, walk along a stretch of the magnificent Cape to Cape walk which extends for 136km between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste lighthouses.

Take a trip north from Perth along the Coral Coast. Get close to wild dolphins at Monkey Mia, visit the small holiday town of Kalbarri and explore the amazing gorges on a canoe trip.

Broome is an absolute must-visit for travellers to WA.

Fly from Perth to Broome and arrange an overland tour into The Kimberley. If you can do a cruise then take the splurge – they are pricey, but spectacular I believe. The Kimberley is a region of huge open spaces, amazing tropical gorges and waterfalls, and I’d love to go back.

And don’t forget Bunbury – we have a wonderful dolphin centre with eco cruises, swimming with wild dolphins and an interpretative centre. Some fine beaches, good shopping and we are the entry point to the up and coming wine region of the Ferguson Valley – spoiler alert, it has hills!

Is there anywhere in WA you haven’t been to yet that’s still on your bucket list?

I’d love to explore more of The Kimberley and the Coral Coast. I’d also like to see what life’s like on one of the million acre cattle stations! My number one wish is two fold – to go on a Kimberley cruise and then to go to the Ningaloo Reef and swim with the whale sharks. Oh, I’d love to stay at The Homestead at El Questro in The Kimberley…pure luxury.

The stunning El Questro Homestead.

In your opinion, what are Western Australia’s top hotel experiences?

Cape Lodge, Windmills Break, Empire Retreat, the Richardson Hotel and Spa, El Questro The Homestead, Mantra Frangipani Broome.

For more Western Australia tips and suggestions, visit Jo’s blog at zigazag.com. She can also be found on Twitter @JohannaACastro.

  • Denise Gillies

    I follow Zigazag. Jo’s tips are always worth noting. She has covered so much of Western Australia in such a relatively short time that it is exhausting to follow her. Before we go tripping, I always see what she has to say about accommodation, food etc. If she recommends a place you can be sure it will be great.
    As an aside, Jo not only writes her ‘Zigazag’ and ‘Lifestyle Fifty’ blogs but she also runs a great series of workshops on blogging and has a small group of proteges looking to become ‘gurus’ in their own fields of interest.

    • http://blog.hotelscombined.com/ Kristen McKenzie

      So glad you’re all enjoying the post! Western Australia does indeed look like an incredible place, and it’s great to have a guide like Jo to help explore this massive landscape!

    • http://www.lifestylefifty.com/ Johanna

      Thanks for the wonderful ‘Heads Up’ Denise! And yes, that small but burgeoning group of proteges have lots to offer in their own right :)

  • Carolyn

    Great insights into WA, Jo. I can see another visit is in order as I’ve barely scratched the surface of your huge but beautiful State.

    • http://www.lifestylefifty.com/ Johanna

      Thanks Carolyn – yes definitely time for a look-see I think!

  • budgetjan

    El Questro looks totally amazing.

    • http://www.lifestylefifty.com/ Johanna

      I’ve seen it from a distance Jan, and it just oozes touch-me-long-for-me luxury!

  • http://www.yTravelBlog.com/ yTravelBlog

    Love Jo and her passion for WA. Can’t wait to hang out with her and follow all her expert tips when we get there in a few months. Totally love that first photo of you Jo!

    • http://blog.hotelscombined.com/ Kristen McKenzie

      We’ll have to keep an eye out for your upcoming WA adventures!

      We’ll also need to profile yTravelBlog on here one day soon! Lots of people in Australia wanting to know about family-friendly travel!

  • http://journeyjottings.com/ Linda Fairbairn

    How lovely to read this interview about you Jo :)
    And love your pointers to WA travel -
    I’m with you about the Kimberleys – I can’t wait to go back for a thorough visit – Like you, I love red rugged outback Oz!

  • http://www.seanasmith.com/ Seana Smith

    Great to see Jo on this blog, she’s a passionate expert on WA. Can I say that I am totally with Jo in loving WA, my hubby and I spent time there before kids came along and look forward to doing more as empty nesters in years to come. BUT it’s also been fun to visit with the family, Perth has heaps to do with kids, very cool playground in Kings Park and heaps more. MUST GET BACK!!

  • Life Images by Jill

    keep up the great work at Zigazag and Lifestyle 50 Jo – two fabulous blogs. This girl really knows her stuff! Anyone wanting to visit WA should visit Jo at Zigazag first!

  • Amanda Kendle

    Fantastic stuff Jo – I’m a big WA fan because I was born and bred here but I get chuffed to hear of people like you who’ve lived all over the world but still think my little (OK, big) home state is something special! xx

  • http://www.rockytravel.net/ Rocky Travel Blog

    Last year I visited Margaret River and loved every minute of it. I would love to discover more of South W.A., it’s such a fascinating and dynamic region, really worth visiting!

  • http://www.ingridrickersey.wordpress.com ingrid

    As locals, while we
    know WA is a great place, I think sometimes we kind of take it for granted
    because we’ve always lived here. So it’s great to see someone like Jo see it
    with fresh eyes appreciate it as she does.
    She is a great ambassador for WA and yes quite the guru! I agree with everything she says about WA and
    the natural beauty of the place is a great attraction with some of the finest
    beaches in the world – no doubt about it!