WITH a soft rumble the engine of the Cessna 182 purrs to life as we skim along the surface of the Hastings River - ripples stretch out across the sheet of glass and spray shoots from the pontoons slicing through the water.
Before we know it, the world is falling away at our feet.
At the helm of the magnificent flying machine, pilot Judy Hodge is in her element, expertly beginning our journey into the open sky.
The experience is simply breathtaking. And the rush of taking off on a body of water – akin to nothing else I have ever experienced.
Feeling the wind beneath her wings gives Judy a sense of freedom often hard to describe.
Her passion for piloting is almost tangible in the way she confesses her long-time love of all things flying.
“The flying is what it’s all about,” she says. “Even when I’m fying on a commercial flight in a big jet and you’re up 30,000 feet among the clouds – it still brings tears to my eyes.”
Staying true to her passion – despite the difficulties that may come with following your dreams – has always been her mindset.
“You have to be free, you have to do what’s right for you. If you want to be a doctor then that’s great, but if you want to be a barefoot pilot then you need to do it.”
Judy has had anything but a dull life. Her smile is contagious and at 56, she still frolics along the boardwalk like a young girl with an insatiable zest for life.
Her secret she says is simply doing what she loves.
Judy was born in a remote mission hospital in northern South Africa. At the age of 19, her dad would offer her an opportunity that would change her life forever.
“My dad said to me ‘Pud’ – he used to call me Pud – ‘do you want to learn to fly?’”
And from her first flying lesson Judy was hooked – line and sinker – on a new past time that would one day become her dream job.
In the 1980s she moved to Melbourne, Australia and in 1991 moved to Port Macquarie and became a real estate agent.
Flying had been put on the back burner, after her first lessons in South Africa with two littlies and a family to look after. But a quarter of a century later and the flying fever struck again, and this time Judy was determined to hold on to her passion.
She earned her private pilot's licence in 2004 and her commercial license (no easy feat) at the age of 54. Slowly spending precious pennies and countless hours perfecting her skills to get where she is today.
In 2005, she had the ultimate sea change - made a bold move and spent some 18 months living on the beach in Vanuatu.
But she would come back to pursue her dream of attaining a commercial licence and begin establishing a solid career with her seaplane business.
With the help of acclaimed instructor Bill Lane, she managed to achieve her goal and is currently working on receiving her instructors rating.
She manages her long-time real estate business, and alongside Mr Lane creates magical moments for the countless number of people who fly with her. If that's not enough to keep her busy she manages holiday rentals, too.
These days it’s all about doing what she loves - and it seems Judy has that pretty well figured out.
She wakes up most mornings, walking the few steps to her seaplane on the river and joining the birds and her amazed passengers for a day of magic in the sky.
“I always say ‘What does your heart want? What makes you happy?’ People always regret more in life what they haven’t done than what they have done,” Judy says. “I can’t not do what I love.”
Even today, after countless take-offs and landings, Judy gets an absolute thrill from coming up out of the water.
She laughs as we complete our picture perfect glass water landing: “What a way to start the morning,” she says.
And from the mile-long smile stretched across her face, I get the feeling that every day ahead is going to be the best day of Judy's life.