Fakarava is oblong shaped and has an almost continuous string of reef and motu stretching for 40 km (25 mi) on its eastern edge. It's the second largest of the Tuamotu atolls, located 450 km (280 mi) northeast of Tahiti, and 120 km (75 mi) southeast of Rangiroa. It's renowned for the drift diving in its two passes—Garuae (also spelled Ngarue) in the north near the main town of Rotoava (and the airport) and Tamakohua Pass, 48 km (30 mi) across the lagoon in the south. The tiny village of Tetamanu, situated by the southern pass, was once the capital of the Tuamotus and houses the first church built in the archipelago in 1874.
In 2006 the entire atoll was deemed an UNESCO biosphere reserve; to preserve the lagoon no overwater bungalows have been built in it. Fakarava was "discovered" by Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb Von Bellingshausen in 1820; some 20 years later missionaries arrived, in the guise of fanatical Catholic priest Honore Laval, and began building churches.