Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago
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.
Dining options run from the fancy—Le Maitai Dream's Kura'ora—to the communal—family-run guesthouses—on Fakarava. Rotoava has three small snack bars where you can get cold drinks and a quick meal, as well as a pizzeria and a bakery.
Guests dine under white canvas umbrellas on a terrace on the edge of the lagoon by day, or at tables set with white linen and sparkling glassware by night. This restaurant is casual chic and is the most elegant on the island. Start with foie gras or mussels and move on to grilled salmon or whatever fresh lagoon fish has come in with the catch. Desserts include coconut and papaya tarts served with vanilla ice cream. Stop by the Kiri Kiri bar for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Pension Havaiki Pearl Guest House
Nonguests dining at this little pension and pearl farm will be offered a two-course set menu. Dishes will vary depending on what the chef has made that evening, but may include mahimahi with honey sauce, oysters with coconut sauce, tuna sashimi, or even barbecued steak imported from New Zealand.
There's one stylish resort on the island and a dozen family-run hotels and guesthouses. Most are found in the northeast corner along the only paved road on the island, which stretches about 15 km (9 mi) from the airport south via the main town of Rotoava. No accommodation offers air-conditioning and almost all pensions have cold-water bathrooms; the Le Maitai Dream resort has hot water. There are three pensions in around Tetamanu, which is about 48 km (30 mi [or 90 minutes by boat]) from the airport.
Fakarava is not a party town, but if you want entertainment head to the Le Maitai Dream.
Kiri Kiri Bar
Kiri Kiri Bar in the White Sand Beach Resort services a variety of cocktails. There is also live music and demonstrations, such as pareo tying.
Polynesian dance performances
The White Sand Beach Resort offers weekly Polynesian dance performances during the high season. It's best to call ahead, as performances are scheduled based upon the number of guests at the time.
Alas, shopoholics will be disappointed with the lack of options, apart from pearls.
Pearls of Havaiki
If you like pearls, you'll be able to buy individual pearls and pearl jewelry at Pearls of Havaiki. They also have an array of mother-of-pearl pieces.
If you want to visit a pearl farm, check out Hinano Pearls, about 19 km (12 mi) south of Rotoava.
Situated on the northeast corner of Fakarava, this village of 860 people is where the action happens on the atoll. There's a pretty Catholic church, a primary school, a few telephone booths that take phone cards, a pharmacy with a doctor and nurse, and a post office with Internet connection. There is no bank or ATMs but the two general stores now accept credit cards. It does have a 15-km (9-mi) road and a cycling lane, so biking is a fun way to explore the area.
It's hard to believe that this village of a dozen people was once the capital of the Tuamotus. The coral church, built in 1874, is still there, along with the Tetamanu Village pension right next to the Tamakohua Pass. The pension operates its own dive center. The owners of the Raimiti pension (about 9.6 km north of the pass) consider themselves Tetamanu citizens and are included in the dozen. The village and pensions are about 48 km (30 mi) from the airport and a 90-minute boat ride away.