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YHA Sydney The Rocks refurbishment: The best view in Sydney just got better

It’s a million-dollar view – but on a budget of just $68.35.

And in a city like Sydney where bargains are few and far between, this feels like one of the best you never knew was on offer.

I’m sitting having a drink on the terrace of my hotel, gazing at the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge before me, knowing my room hasn’t cost me even a sixth of the price of the cheapest one in the hotel next door.

That’s because I’m in YHA Sydney Harbour at The Rocks which has undergone a dramatic refurbishment to take it a world away from the youth hostels of, well, my youth, and into a smart, functional, modern place to stay for all age groups.

Here, depending on dates, a shared four-women (or four-men) room with two bunk beds, an ensuite, and a table and chairs is just $68.35 a person a night, a double with ensuite and TV is $256 and a new king opera harbour view ensuite with smart TV is $311.25.

All guests, of course, then have access to that splendid roof terrace with its panoramic harbour views, to sit and think or drink or eat a meal DIY home-cooked in the vast communal kitchens downstairs, carried up from the café – that’s currently being extended – brought in from the pub next door or delivered from any of the neighbourhood’s restaurants. There are also plans for a bar there, too.

This isn’t the first time I’ve stayed in a YHA but it’s the first for a long, long time. Back in the day, and ever since the youth hostel movement began in Germany in 1909, they used to be grim, austere places you’d only choose if there was no alternative, or you were a dedicated no-frills hiker with Amish tendencies.

You’d be allowed in after 4pm, with lights out usually by 9.30pm, and have to leave by 10am the next morning. In between, all guests would be allocated chores to perform, from making beds and cleaning the communal kitchen, to chopping wood for a fire.

How things have changed! Now the global not-for-profit is rebranding itself into a provider of much more contemporary accommodation, still with moderately-priced spaces to sleep, but also with inviting areas to eat, work and play.

At my YHA at The Rocks, for instance, built above The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre with its site overlooked by the hostel’s walkways, there’s plenty of communal tables and chairs to sit and work on a computer, a TV room, a games room, free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, a laundry and a barbeque.

Like for many other hospitality ventures, COVID proved devastating, but as YHA CEO Paul McGrath said, “We felt we shouldn’t waste a crisis. So we decided to evolve into a brand new business, attracting a wider set of customers from Australia and from overseas.”

Now, 32 per cent of the rooms at the 40 YHAs around Australia have private facilities, and many are offering food and wine, with a bar opened at the Sydney Central YHA at Haymarket and others being launched at Melbourne’s Flinders Street YHA and Brisbane’s Upper Roma Street hostel.

The country’s new flagship YHA under construction in the Atlassian building at Sydney’s Central will have both a bar and a brewery, a 24-hour restaurant and a climbing wall.

In the meantime, the YHA Sydney Harbour feels very much like a well-guarded secret, especially being next door to the five-star Four Seasons Hotel Sydney which pretty much shares the same views.

And when you think that one of the country’s most expensive hotels, the Park Hyatt Sydney, with its rumoured $21,000 Sydney Suite, is also looking at the same vista – albeit a great deal more close-up – then who says there are no bargains to be found in Sydney anymore?

The writer stayed as a guest of YHA.

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