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Why Southbank is the perfect walkable neighbourhood for this food and travel writer

By Georgina Shanahan

When you make a living writing about food, lifestyle and travel, you need to be out there having experiences you can draw on.

For Maida Pineda, those experiences can be big or small. She’s written about visiting Bhutan and has interviewed famous chefs, but she has also published articles about the kindness of her Southbank neighbours and the mental health benefits of patting dogs.

Seeking small moments of joy wherever she is has helped Pineda carve a meaningful life for herself in cities across the globe.

Pineda has lived in Massachusetts, Adelaide (while gaining a graduate degree in gastronomy), Hong Kong, Singapore, Perth and more, before settling in Southbank, where she lives in a one-bedroom apartment with a study that’s close to the NGV, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Melbourne’s CBD.

Pineda lives in a one bedroom apartment with a study that’s close to the NGV, the Botanic Gardens and the CBD. Photo: Greg Briggs

“I guess this is my seventh city,” she says. “Five countries, seven cities,” all of which she moved to on her own.

While Pineda loves her bustling, culturally rich suburb, she is equally a lover of nature, and thankfully there’s plenty of that within walking distance from her home (she doesn’t own a car).

An accomplished practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, one of her favourite things to do is find a peaceful spot for contemplation in the 38-hectare Royal Botanic Gardens, a short walk away.

Monday mornings at the gardens are the best. They’re particularly quiet, she says, once the weekend is over and she can sit among the age-old trees and set her intentions for the week

“There’s an energy – and maybe this is the yoga person in me – but just soaking up the energy … if you can do it once a week by yourself, you just get lost in your own thoughts and wash away all the negative stuff.”

Birrarung Marr and Kings Domain are also favourite places to walk and find solace in vast green spaces. “I do have plants on my balcony but I don’t really need my own garden,” she says, joking that, thankfully, she doesn’t have a lawn to mow either.

Birrarung Marr and Kings Domain are also favourite places. Photo: Greg Briggs

But life is about balance, as they say. Being a food writer, Pineda is also very partial to a stroll through Degraves Street for a cupcake while brainstorming story ideas, or ducking to Queen Victoria Market for food-truck tacos after work.

She’s found that, in Southbank, she’s surrounded by people who value the same sorts of things as she does.

“It attracts people like me who like the arts and who like to have access to markets, to hidden little cafes,” she says.

For Pineda, the reality of living in an apartment building has been the opposite of fabled tales of a lonely life in the city.

“You’d think living in the city would be cold and unfriendly, but in this inner-city suburb that I call home, we know each other and we help each other out,” she says. “We live in apartments but it feels like a small community in the country.”

Pineda says having all of the city’s amenities so close is ‘a joy’. Photo: Greg Briggs

Pineda and her neighbours jump at the chance to go for a glass of wine together at their local, fuss over each other’s dogs and help with more mundane tasks, like sharing tools and kitchen appliances.

“What I’ve found is community,” she says.

To have found so much within walking distance helps her to feel happy and healthy, and of course, provides material for her magazine articles and bite-sized stories for social media.

“To have all that within grasp [without] a lot of effort, it’s a gift. It’s a joy,” she says. “I guess I kind of fell in love with the place.”

Maida Pineda’s top three local places

Mork cafe

Mork’s hole-in-the-wall cafe dishes up sweet treats. Photo: Supplied

Mork, a North Melbourne-based hot chocolate institution, serves its sweet treats from its second venue at 20 Equitable Place, just off Little Collins Street.

“I’d recommend Mork for excellent hot chocolate in the CBD. It’s a converted lift shaft in a laneway. They also have really good cakes, pastries and cinnamon buns.”

The Shrine of Remembrance

Pineda says the landmark memorial, set on the edge of parkland, draws people in daily to sit in quiet contemplation.

“Being at the shrine, either first thing at sunrise or at sunset is just something you have to do, living in Melbourne. It becomes really still and quiet, and people just sit there in their own thoughts.”

Royal Botanic Gardens 

“I always talk about this with my neighbours, how lucky we are to live just across the street from the Botanic Gardens, like a five-minute walk away.”


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