Weekender's guide to Yass, NSW

May 18, 2019 / By Mark Slater

Distance from Sydney: 3 hours' drive on the Hume Highway (M31)
Distance from Canberra: 45 minutes on the Barton Highway
Population: 6,000 (approx)
Traditional owners: the Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri people
Known for: Rural charm, history, indigenous cultural heritage, wineries, arts and crafts
Information Centre: Yass Valley Information Centre, 259 Comur Street (Ph: 1300 886 014)
Online: http://www.yassvalley.com.au/

Yass, named from the Aboriginal word, “Yharr”, meaning running water after the Yass River which meanders languidly through the town, is the traditional home of the indigenous Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri people. The explorer Hamilton Hume was the first non-indigenous person to visit the Yass Plains in 1821 and the first settlers moved into the area in 1830. Hume’s name is given to the major inland highway which connects Sydney and Melbourne and skirts the western edge of the town. 

Either as a welcome stopover, a day trip from Canberra or a destination in its own right, Yass is the ideal place to visit when in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

Despite its small population, Yass is a thriving township at the centre of one of Australia’s oldest farming districts, the Yass Valley. The area is well known for its indigenous and European settlement history, wineries and vineyards, art and craft galleries, local produce and laid-back rural lifestyle. Yass is also home to many people who commute the short 45 minute drive along the Barton Highway to the national capital, Canberra.

What to see

Yass hosts a seemingly endless range of iconic rural and historic attractions which tell much of the history of early rural New South Wales. First among these is Cooma Cottage, one of the oldest surviving rural homesteads in New South Wales and a good example of the architecture of the day. The Yass and District Museum takes visitors a journey through the history of the Yass Valley and the Yass Railway Museum recalls the golden era of rail travel in the state.  

A feature of Yass is the careful preservation of its historic character, particularly along Comur Street, the main thoroughfare, where the 19th and 21st centuries meet.

When viewed from one of the many scenic lookouts around the town and nearby surrounds, the natural beauty of the Yass Valley creates a stunning canvas which no artist could hope to replicate. Autumn is a particularly special time to take in the glorious panorama because of the number of introduced and native tree species which decorate the landscape, but each season has its own, unique charm.

Places to eat

Exploring and sightseeing build up hunger and thirst. Yass hosts a rich selection of cafes and restaurants for a relaxing meal or a snack on the go.

Boutique wineries are one the features of the Yass Valley and Canberra District; an entire day would not be sufficient to sample the array of premium whites and reds along the Barton Highway corridor. 

If you are planning to stay overnight in the district, Yass has a range of accommodation styles, from budget to boutique to colonial, so travelers can rest weary bones in comfort. 

Just a few kilometres from Yass on the way to Canberra is the village of Murrumbateman. The Murrumbateman district shares its wine-making heritage and idyllic country lifestyle with Yass and no visit to the area is complete without sampling the local lifestyle.

Fun facts

  • AB “Banjo” Paterson, one of Australia’s most loved bush poets, moved to the Yass Valley in 1871, spending his childhood in the district before later returning to live in nearby Wee Jasper so that his children could experience country life.
  • Yass was one of the sites proposed for the national capital in 1901, before the nearby region which was to become Canberra was chosen in 1912.
  • Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns Cavan Station, a sprawling pastoral property just south of Yass on the road to Wee Jasper.


While exploring the Yass Valley and surrounds, make sure you find time to visit the nearby villages of Gundaroo, Binalong, Bowning and Wee Jasper. 

We think you should know: The Weekender's travel guides are independently written by real travellers. We do not receive any money from, or have a sponsorship arrangement with, any of the entities listed in, or referred to in this article.

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