DIVERS are an unusual breed.
They are folk who seem to be quite happy jumping into cold water, feet first, armed with all manner of gear wrapped around themselves, and staying under water for close to 50 minutes at a time.
About 100 of these unusual people gathered last week at Heron Island for the island's second annual dive festival in recent times.
And they had a ball.
The great majority of them took advantage of the two dives per day and many took up the opportunity to dive in absolute darkness.
The festival was a feature at Heron some years ago, but it was stopped about a decade ago.
Delaware North took over the island resort two years ago and one of the early items on the agenda was to reinvigorate the festival.
Last year the inaugural new festival attracted 50 divers. This year that number was doubled, and it was impossible to find a participant who was not happy with the event.
On Saturday night the resort's 180-odd rooms were all booked out as festival-goers and other island visitors took advantage of the great facilities the resort offers.
Divers were treated to advice and suggestions from a number of world renowned underwater photographers and marine scientists, who were more than happy to impart their knowledge to others.
Heading the panel of photographers was Bob Halstead, author of a number of books on diving and the person who has more rudibranchs than anyone else in the world named after him.
Mr Halstead has been diving for many years and his skills were shown with great effect with the slide shows he presented at the discussion sessions each evening.
What on earth is that? That was the question I posed to myself early on in the weekend, until I was enlightened at the discussion sessions.
The name rudibranch relates to a group of soft bodied molluscs that shed their shells after the larval stage. These critters show the most amazing range of brilliant colours I have ever seen - and before last weekend I had never heard of them.
A panel discussion with Mr Halstead, David Hannah and Gary Bell drew a good crowd of divers who were keen to learn more about the skills of underwater photography.
The three panellists are all world-class photographers in their own right and their audience took in every word like sponges.
The diving? Every diver I spoke to talked about the wonderful sights they had seen on Heron Reef; many saw things they had never seen before, with turtles being the most talked about creatures.
Heron Island Resort manager Simon Stansfield said on Sunday that the festival had become one of the highlights of the resort's year, and staff were excited before the event at the prospect of looking after so many people who had similar interests to themselves.
"People love rubbing shoulders with globally recognised divers and photographers and this week they have had plenty of opportunity to do just that."
The final night's dinner was a highlight in Mr Stansfield's mind.
"That night we had a gathering of people who had come to the festival as strangers and they came to the dinner having made some good friends.
"The atmosphere at the dinner was brilliant. It was great to see so many people enjoying themselves."
He said he was looking forward to planning for next year's festival, to be held between June 12-16, and to the prospect of hosting a larger number of divers than this year.
I must admit the closest I got to entering the water was to wander around in the low tide waters of the reef surrounding the island, learning about the amazing life that we just don't realise is there.
Maybe next time I'll be a little more brave, get past the thought of being cold, grab the snorkel and fins (don't call them flippers) and have a look for myself.
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