There are so many great things to see in South Australia, and one of my absolute favourites is the Barossa Valley. Unfortunately, it has a reputation for being pretty expensive – and no wonder! Private tours of the Barossa can cost hundreds of dollars, and group tours sacrifice the flexibility.

This is why I was so excited to hear about the Barossa Valley having its own hop on, hop off bus. Now, I assume that if you are reading a budget travel blog, you’re familiar with this concept. However, if you are not, it is basically a bus service that runs on a timetable. A ticket allows you to – as the name suggests – hop on and off at your leisure.

One of the best things about this service is how incredibly cost effective it is. We managed to score tickets for the bus at 50% off through the website Bookme, however even at the full price of $30, it is really good. Now, more than anyone I understand that even $30 can feel like a squeeze for a backpacker – however, let me plead with you as a true South Aussie – you don’t want to miss this.

Choosing a Barossa hop on, hop off bus company

There seems to be two services running in the Barossa Valley, but the one that I went with is the Barossa Explorer, largely due to a deal being available at the time. I have since done a little more research on this and the other service, the Trailhopper, and I’m pleased with my choice, although there are definite pros and cons. Why? A few reasons.

First, it’s more cost effective. The Explorer ticket is $30 whereas the Trailhopper is $45 on weekdays and $49 on weekends. This said, I have heard ‘on the grapevine’ that the Barossa Explorer is soon going to increase their prices.

Second, the Barossa Explorer, as the name suggests, only visits the Barossa Valley. The driver/owner/tour guide, Troy, is a local (although he tells me he blew in from Sydney 6 years ago), and I feel that adds a certain charm. By contrast, the Trailhopper bus is a little more of a slick outfit that operates in numerous regions in South Australia. I’d personally rather support smaller, local businesses – but that’s just a personal preference.

Third, for us, we preferred the list of wineries as they are typically smaller, more boutique places. At 2 out of the 5 wineries we visited we were served by the winemaker themselves.

That said – and as much as I hate to be fence sitter – there are definite pros and cons of each. Let’s break it down a little more.

Entrance to the Langmeil Cellar Door  in the Barossa Valley
Entrance to the Langmeil Cellar Door – First Stop!

Wineries visited

To compare, here are the wineries visited by each service:

Trailhopper Grant Burge Charles Melton St Hallett Bethany Wines Rusden Lambert Estate Yalumba Saltram Penfolds Kaesler
Barossa Explorer Turkey Flat Langmeil Winery David Franz Rolf Binder Wines Artisans of the Barossa Chateau Tanunda

Obviously, we can see straight away that the Trail Hopper visits more wineries. However, due to the length of the “loop”, it is not possible to visit all of them (and you’d probably be unconscious by the end of it, anyway). In actual fact, the maximum number that you can visit in a day is 5 based on their timetable. Personally, I think this is plenty, but I guess the edge that the Trailhopper has here is that you can do the tour twice, and see totally different things.

In terms of the quality of wineries selected, I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed of the fact that I have visited most of these wineries at some point or another.

The Trailhopper definitely hits the big names, and if you are a red enthusiast, you will probably recognise some of these names such as St Hallett and of course Penfolds. Charles Melton is one of my absolute favourite wineries, producing incredible reds. If you are a red wine enthusiast, or you want to hit the big names, then I’d go for the Trailhopper. It’s going to stop at the wineries you can name-drop at your fancy great aunt’s and get appreciate ‘oohs’.

On the other hand, if you prefer a smaller, friendlier experience, I say go for the Barossa Explorer. Now, everywhere in the Barossa is pretty friendly – even the huge names – however there is a real charm of visiting a family run winery where there’s a very strong chance you’ll be chatting with the winemaker themselves at the cellar door. Plus, pretty much all of the wine is good in the Barossa!

The bar at David Franz Wines - second stop!
The bar at David Franz Wines – our second stop!

Pick up

One difference between the Trailhopper and the Barossa Explorer is the pick up options. The Trailhopper will pick you up from the city if you can’t make it into the Barossa Valley itself. Obviously, the city pick up is the more expensive ($59 on weekdays and $69 on weekends) whereas the ‘in region’ price is $45.

As I understand it, the Barossa Explorer does not do any pick ups except from the Barossa region. Their website does state that Gawler train station pick ups are available on request, but I highly doubt they are included in the price. This is obviously a bit of a downer, unless you use it as a good opportunity to stay in the Barossa! There are cheap options including a backpacker’s hotel, caravan parks, and AirBnB.

It is also possible to get into the Barossa by public transport, but you need to plan it well. You need to get a train to Gawler train station (super easy from the city) to then link up with the once daily Link SA service.

Length of the Tour

Both tours are very similar in length, from approximately 11am to 4pm. Honestly, this is the only downside I can see with these tours – they miss out on at least 1 hour either side. I wish the tours were 10am – 5pm, to give more flexibility and to feel a little less rushed in the Barossa. On our tour, we actually missed the last bus and had to get a taxi back (luckily it only cost $15).

While both tours are similar in duration, the Barossa Explorer has a shorter loop that has more frequent stops. Specifically, the Barossa Explorer stops 8 times at each destination while the Trailhopper stops a maximum of 5. I personally prefer the more frequent stops, as it gives more flexibility if you are not loving a destination.

Conclusion

I’m thrilled that there are hop on, hop off options in the Barossa, which offer a more affordable option for those on a budget. A huge disclaimer here is that I have only tried the Barossa Explorer and so my thoughts on the Trailhopper are from research, not firsthand experience. However –

If you want an affordable, friendly, laid back option – I’d go the Barossa Explorer. It has that little bit more laidback vibe, from the feeling of bus itself through to the wineries visited. I’d highly recommend trying to stay in Tanunda to make it work – the backpacker’s is one of the main stops.

On the other hand, if you are a red wine enthusiast who wants to sample the best wine in the Barossa – go for the Trailhopper. Likewise, if you are staying in the city and your budget is very limited – go for the trailhopper mid-week, especially if you are solo. It is going to be way cheaper than trying to navigate your way to the Barossa Explorer pick up site by public transport (and driving is a terrible idea).

A red wine atop a barrel in the Barossa Valley

Any questions? Add them to the comments below and I’ll do my best to respond.

 

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