“To provide opportunity for all, but especially young people for education by personal development, fostering friendship and bringing about a better understanding of others and the world around them.”

YHA is a membership-based, not-for-profit organisation which has been providing quality, low-cost accommodation in Australia for over 60 years to educational groups and independent travellers. It is part of Hostelling International – a global network of more than 4,000 places to stay in over 60 countries, including many heritage buildings and unique properties in World Heritage areas.

There are over 90 YHA hostels in Australia, which record over a million guest nights each year. YHA properties range from 12-bed eco-hostels to large, award-winning, hostels in urban areas. YHA is dedicated to playing an active role in environmental sustainability and is leading the way in mainstream tourism with its commitment to best practice management. In 2009 YHA achieved bronze partner status in the Department of Environment and Climate Change’s ‘Sustainability Advantage Program’.

Visit yha.com.au for information on accommodation, YHA membership and travel deals.

An award winning development

Since opening in late 2009, Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre has collected an impressive array of awards and commendations from industry and guests. Follow this link for a full listing to date!  Sydney Harbour YHA Awards

The development process

Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre are located above ‘The Big Dig’ site, between Cumberland and Gloucester streets, where structural remains dating from around 1795 and over a million artefacts have been found since excavations began in 1994.

The project is the largest archaeological urban development ever completed in Australia. It demonstrates that the conservation of in-situ remains as part of a modern building can enhance visitor experiences and interest, as well as preserving sometimes fragile archaeological remains in an accessible and meaningful way.

The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority calls for proposals

In 2006 The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which manages and cares for the site, called for proposals for a suitable development to safeguard its future. From this process four proposals were shortlisted by an expert evaluation panel. This panel, which included members of The National Trust of NSW, the Historic Houses Trust and the NSW Heritage office, provided valuable assistance in drawing up key consideration for the site. Of primary concern was the need to:
• Protect this unique site and to make it publicly accessible
• Create innovative synergy between the site and The Rocks area
• Conserve and interpret the site and its remains

The proposal from YHA, which involved a consortium of archaeologists, heritage specialists, education and urban design experts, was designed to revitalize the past, recognize the present and realise the future to create a vital new experience in The Rocks. A Design Review Panel was formed to assist in the development of a design that was sympathetic to the heritage values of the site and local area, as well as providing a viable enterprise. The Panel comprised representatives from The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, The Department of Planning, the Heritage Office and YHA.

A winning design

Tzannes Associates designed an innovative set of buildings using a lightweight steel structure which allows them to be supported above the archaeological remains, allowing visual access to over 85% of the site at ground level. The hostel showcases the best in modern hostel accommodation and includes a stunning view across Sydney Harbour from the rooftop terrace.

Department of Planning

On the 28th August 2007 YHA submitted the Environmental Assessment Plan for the Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archeology Education Centre to the Department of Planning. Developing the plan involved many specialist technical consultants and a local community and stakeholders consultation process. The proposal was on public exhibition from mid September for one month. Following a review of the development application and submissions received, the NSW Department of Planning approved the development on the 8th February 2008.


Construction of Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre took place between September 2008 and October 2009. During construction the site was covered by a layer of scaffolding to protect the archaeological remnants. The new buildings are largely raised on pillars above the archaeological remnants, which minimises impact on the site and allows good visual and physical access to 85% of the archaeology.


The first guests stayed at Sydney Harbour YHA on the 31st October 2009. The hostel and education centre were officially opened by her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, on the 7th April 2010.

Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts of the Development

The Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre are part of a a low impact, high profile development that creates positive impacts for Sydney, the site and the immediate Rocks area. These positive impacts can be summarised as follows:

  • The establishment of the YHA promotes this archaeological dig site to Australian residents and international visitors.
  • Commercial redevelopment has a positive impact on the long-term preservation of the site as it ensures an income stream for conservation. YHA NSW is a not-for-profit organisation that returns profits from earnings back into its capital assets – in this case the Dig Site facility and YHA. YHA is genuinely interested in the preservation and educational values of the site and YHA’s organisational structure assures long-term viability for the area.
  • YHA, as a community conscious organisation, is aware of the potential for impacts on residential neighbours and independently implements Management Plans for the control of guest behaviour in a concerted effort to minimise impacts on neighbourhoods.
  • YHA controls the management of the Dig Site, including security and maintenance roles, to ensure that the facility is protected and preserved.
  • YHA has actively pursued an environmentally friendly design for the buildings to minimise electricity use and water wastage.

YHA believes this development represents a positive outcome for the site’s future and preservation, whilst also providing for a viable hostel enterprise.

A team of consultants

The design and construction of Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre was very much a collaborative endeavour. YHA Ltd acknowledges the many consultants who were involved in this very successful development.
Built NSW Pty Ltd — Building Contractor
Tzannes Associates — Architecture Urban Design
Design Collaborative Pty Ltd — Town Planners
Elton Consulting — Communication Consultants
Fire Engineering Design Pty Ltd — Fire Consultants
Godden Mackay Logan Pty Ltd — Heritage Consultants
International Conservation Services — Conservation Consultants
Heights Heritage — Artefact Cases installation
ITC Group Pty Ltd — Services Engineers
Louise Zarmati — Heritage Education Consultant
McNally Management Pty Ltd — Project Manager
Page Kirkland — Quantity Surveyor
Steve Watson & Partners — BCA Consultants
Taylor Thomson Whiting — Structural Engineers
Team Catalyst — Sustainability Consultants
Terraffic Pty Ltd — Traffic Consultants
WHP Achitects — Access Consultants

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