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Milford Sound Day Trip From Queenstown: What To Know + How To Plan


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Philippa Cusack



Milford Sound, located on the southwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is often referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. This breathtaking fjord draws visitors from around the globe with its spectacular scenery, towering granite cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. With its pristine natural beauty and abundant wildlife, Milford Sound offers a truly unforgettable experience for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts alike.


Accessible from Queenstown, which is renowned for its stunning landscapes and adventure activities, a day trip to Milford Sound is a must-do when visiting New Zealand. This awe-inspiring destination is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with endless opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and wildlife spotting.


As you embark on your journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound, prepare to be captivated by the dramatic landscapes that unfold before your eyes. The drive alone is an adventure in itself, as you traverse rugged mountain passes, cross crystal-clear rivers, and wind your way through ancient beech forests.


Once you arrive at Milford Sound, you will be greeted by its stunning natural beauty. The towering peaks of the Southern Alps rise majestically from the water, creating a dramatic backdrop for the sparkling blue waters below. The sound is renowned for its wild and untamed landscape, where waterfalls tumble down sheer cliff faces and seals bask on rocky outcrops.


It’s important to note that Milford Sound is a remote and protected area, and it is best experienced through guided tours or boat cruises. These excursions not only offer the opportunity to explore the fjord in depth but also provide valuable insights into the flora, fauna, and geological features of this extraordinary place.


Whether you choose to visit for a day trip or spend a few days immersing yourself in the beauty of Milford Sound, you are sure to be left in awe of its grandeur and untouched natural splendor. So prepare yourself for an adventure of a lifetime as you discover the magic of Milford Sound.


Getting to Milford Sound from Queenstown

Milford Sound may be a remote and isolated destination, but getting there from Queenstown is relatively straightforward. The journey itself is a scenic adventure, giving you the opportunity to take in the stunning landscapes of the Fiordland National Park.


The most common way to reach Milford Sound from Queenstown is by road. The drive takes approximately 4-5 hours and covers a distance of around 290 kilometers. The route winds through breathtaking mountain ranges, lush rainforests, and picturesque lakes, providing plenty of photo opportunities along the way.


You have two options when it comes to traveling by road. The first is to drive yourself, either in your own vehicle or by renting a car. This option gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and stop at various viewpoints and attractions along the route. The second option is to join a guided tour, where an experienced driver takes care of navigating the winding roads, allowing you to sit back, relax, and soak in the scenery.


If driving yourself, it is important to note that the road to Milford Sound, known as the Milford Road, can be challenging, especially during winter. The road is narrow and winding, and encounters with ice, snow, and avalanches are not uncommon. It is essential to check weather and road conditions before setting off, and ensure you have appropriate snow chains and equipment if traveling during the winter months.


For those who prefer not to drive, there are also options to reach Milford Sound by bus or shuttle. These services provide a convenient and hassle-free way to get to your destination, allowing you to sit back and relax while enjoying the stunning scenery. Many bus tours also offer informative commentary along the way, enriching your journey with interesting facts and stories about the area.


If you are short on time or prefer a more luxurious mode of transport, you can also choose to fly to Milford Sound from Queenstown. Helicopter and fixed-wing plane tours are available, providing an aerial perspective of the stunning landscapes below. These tours offer breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains, pristine lakes, and untouched wilderness, allowing you to truly appreciate the grandeur of the region.


Whichever mode of transport you choose, the journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound is an adventure in itself. So sit back, relax, and get ready to be captivated by the magnificent scenery that awaits you at Milford Sound.


Best Time to Visit Milford Sound

Milford Sound is an incredible destination that can be visited throughout the year, as its beauty shines in every season. However, the weather and the experience can vary greatly depending on the time of year you choose to visit.


The summer months of December through February are the most popular time to visit Milford Sound. During this period, the weather is generally mild, with temperatures averaging around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). The days are longer, allowing for more time to explore and enjoy the stunning landscapes. However, it’s important to note that this is also the busiest time of year, and the tour boats can get quite crowded. It’s recommended to book your tours and accommodations well in advance if you plan to visit during the summer.


Autumn (March to May) in Milford Sound offers a different kind of beauty. The foliage turns vibrant shades of red, orange, and gold, creating a picturesque scene against the backdrop of the fjord. The weather is cooler, but still pleasant, and the crowds start to thin out, providing a more serene and peaceful experience. This is also a great season for photography enthusiasts, as the changing colors of the landscape offer stunning photo opportunities.


Winter (June to August) in Milford Sound brings a different ambiance to the fjord. Snow-covered peaks, frozen waterfalls, and misty mornings create a magical atmosphere. The temperatures can drop below freezing, with occasional snowfall, so be sure to pack warm clothing. Winter is considered the off-peak season, so you can expect fewer tourists and a more tranquil experience. It’s worth noting that due to the potential for winter road closures or disruptions, it’s recommended to check the road conditions before traveling and allow extra time for your journey.


Spring (September to November) is a time of renewal in Milford Sound. The days start getting longer, and the weather begins to warm up. The snow starts to melt, and waterfalls are at their peak flow, creating a magnificent spectacle. It’s a great time to witness the rejuvenation of nature as plants and flowers start to bloom. Spring also tends to be less crowded compared to the summer months, making it a good time to enjoy the serenity of the fjord.


Ultimately, the best time to visit Milford Sound depends on your personal preferences. Each season brings its own unique charm, and the decision should be based on the experience you wish to have. Whether you enjoy the vibrant energy of summer, the tranquility of winter, or the colorful landscapes of autumn and spring, Milford Sound will leave you in awe of its natural wonders.


Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown

When planning a visit to Milford Sound from Queenstown, there are several tour options available to ensure you make the most of your experience. These tours not only provide transportation to and from Milford Sound but also offer valuable insights, guided commentary, and the opportunity to partake in various activities.


One popular tour option is a full-day guided tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound. These tours typically include comfortable transportation in a coach or minibus, with knowledgeable guides who provide interesting commentary along the way. The tour takes you on a scenic journey through the stunning landscapes of the Fiordland National Park, stopping at several viewpoints and attractions along the route. Some tours also include optional activities like short walks, hikes, or a visit to the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. These tours offer a convenient and hassle-free way to experience the beauty of Milford Sound while learning about its history and natural wonders.


For those who prefer a more immersive experience, there are also multi-day tours available. These tours typically include accommodation in or near Milford Sound, allowing you to spend more time exploring and enjoying the stunning scenery. They often include guided activities such as boat cruises, kayaking, wildlife spotting, and even helicopter or plane flights over the fjord. These tours offer the opportunity to truly delve into the wonders of Milford Sound and make the most of your time in this breathtaking location.


Another popular option is a scenic flight or helicopter tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound. These flights provide a unique and unforgettable perspective of the fjord and the surrounding landscapes. You can choose from fixed-wing planes or helicopters, each offering stunning aerial views of the rugged mountains, cascading waterfalls, and deep blue waters. Some flights even offer the option to land on a glacier or take a scenic helicopter landing in a remote and pristine location. These tours provide an incredible opportunity to witness the grandeur of Milford Sound from above and capture breathtaking photographs.


If you prefer a more private and personalized experience, there are also private tours available. These tours can be customized to your preferences and offer flexibility in terms of timing and itinerary. With a private tour, you can have a dedicated guide and vehicle to take you to Milford Sound and ensure that you have a tailored experience that suits your interests and needs.


No matter which tour option you choose, experiencing Milford Sound with a knowledgeable guide can greatly enhance your visit. They can provide valuable insights into the history, geology, and wildlife of the region, making your journey more informative and engaging. Additionally, many tours offer the option to combine your visit to Milford Sound with other nearby attractions such as Te Anau, the Routeburn Track, or the Milford Track, allowing you to explore more of the stunning Fiordland region.


It’s important to book your tour in advance, especially during the peak summer season, as availability can be limited. Take the time to research and compare different tour options, considering factors such as duration, inclusions, and reviews, to find the tour that best suits your preferences and budget. Whether you choose a guided tour, a scenic flight, or a personalized private experience, a visit to Milford Sound from Queenstown is sure to be a highlight of your New Zealand trip.


Milford Sound Cruise and Activities

A cruise on the pristine waters of Milford Sound is a must-do experience when visiting this iconic New Zealand destination. The cruises provide an up-close and personal encounter with the beauty of the fjord, allowing you to fully appreciate its grandeur and natural wonders.


The cruises typically range in duration from 1.5 hours to 2 hours, and there are several operators to choose from. Each cruise offers its own unique features, but all provide stunning views of the towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife that call Milford Sound home.


As you journey through the sound, your knowledgeable guide will share stories and fascinating facts about the area’s geology, flora, and fauna. They will point out points of interest and ensure you don’t miss any of the hidden gems that make Milford Sound so incredible.


One of the highlights of a Milford Sound cruise is getting up close to the powerful waterfalls that cascade down the sheer cliffs. The most famous of these is the mighty Stirling Falls, a 155-meter waterfall that will leave you in awe of its sheer beauty and force. Other notable waterfalls include the Bowen Falls and the Lady Bowen Falls.


In addition to the stunning landscapes, Milford Sound is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for seals sunbathing on the rocks or swimming in the crystal-clear waters. Dolphins are also known to frequent the sound, often playfully swimming alongside the boats. And if you’re lucky, you may even spot a penguin or two waddling along the shoreline.


Aside from cruising, there are other activities available to enhance your experience at Milford Sound. One popular option is kayaking, which allows you to explore the fjord at your own pace, immersing yourself in the tranquility of the surroundings. Guided kayaking tours are available for both beginners and experienced paddlers, offering the chance to get even closer to the dramatic cliffs and waterfalls.


For the more adventurous, there are also options for scenic flights and helicopter rides that provide an aerial perspective of Milford Sound. From above, you’ll be able to take in the full extent of the fjord, with its winding waterways, snow-capped peaks, and untouched wilderness. It’s a truly unforgettable experience that offers a unique and breathtaking view of Milford Sound.


Whether you choose to cruise, kayak, or take to the skies, the activities at Milford Sound ensure that you have a truly immersive and unforgettable experience. The combination of jaw-dropping scenery, abundant wildlife, and a range of activities makes this destination a must-visit for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.


Milford Sound Wildlife

Milford Sound, nestled within the Fiordland National Park, is not only known for its breathtaking natural beauty but also for its diverse and abundant wildlife. The fjord provides a unique habitat for various species, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers.


One of the most iconic wildlife encounters in Milford Sound is with the New Zealand fur seals. These charismatic creatures can often be seen sunbathing on the rocks or playing in the waters of the fjord. Keep an eye out for their comical antics and listen for their distinctive calls as they go about their daily lives.


Dolphins are another common sight in Milford Sound. Bottlenose dolphins and dusky dolphins are known to frequent the fjord, often swimming alongside boats and showing off their acrobatic skills. Some tours even offer the chance to swim or snorkel with these intelligent and playful creatures, providing a truly unforgettable experience.


Milford Sound is also home to a variety of bird species. Keas, New Zealand’s native alpine parrots, can be spotted here, known for their curiosity and cheeky nature. Keep an eye out for their vibrant plumage and listen for their distinctive calls echoing through the valley. Other bird species you may encounter include native New Zealand bush robins, tui, and rare Fiordland crested penguins.


If you’re lucky, you may even spot the elusive and iconic Fiordland crested penguin. These penguins are known for their distinctive yellow crests and can sometimes be seen resting on rocky outcrops or swimming in the fjord. Spotting these elusive creatures in their natural habitat is a truly special moment.


Milford Sound is also home to a variety of marine life. Beneath the surface of the fjord, you’ll find an array of fish species, including blue cod and sea perch. Keep an eye out for the occasional glimpse of a stingray or octopus as they glide through the waters. The depths of the fjord are also home to delicate coral gardens and other fascinating marine ecosystems.


It’s important to remember that Milford Sound is a protected area, and it’s vital to respect the wildlife and their natural habitat. Observe animals from a safe distance and avoid disturbing their natural behaviors. By doing so, you can play a part in preserving and protecting the delicate balance of this unique ecosystem.


With its rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes, Milford Sound offers a truly immersive experience with New Zealand’s incredible wildlife. From seals and dolphins to unique bird species and marine life, every visit to Milford Sound brings the opportunity for unforgettable wildlife encounters in a setting of unparalleled natural beauty.


Milford Sound Scenic Drives

The journey to Milford Sound is just as captivating as the destination itself. Driving to Milford Sound offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of the Fiordland National Park and experience the natural wonders of the region.


One of the most famous scenic drives in New Zealand is the Milford Road, which takes you from Te Anau to Milford Sound. The road winds through breathtaking mountain ranges, lush rainforests, and picturesque lakes, offering a truly unforgettable journey. The drive is approximately 120 kilometers long and takes around two and a half hours without stops. However, it is highly recommended to allow extra time for stops and to fully appreciate the awe-inspiring scenery along the way.


As you make your way along the Milford Road, you’ll encounter numerous viewpoints and attractions that are worth a stop. The Mirror Lakes, located just a short drive from Te Anau, offer a stunning reflection of the surrounding mountains and forests. It’s a perfect spot for a tranquil walk and some beautiful photographs.


Further along the road, you’ll come across the Chasm, a short walk that takes you through a gorge filled with rushing water and incredible rock formations. The power and beauty of the water are truly mesmerizing, making it a must-see stop on your journey.


Once you reach Milford Sound, the road ends, but the scenic beauty continues. The drive itself is an adventure, with the road hugging the mountainside and offering breathtaking vistas at every turn. Be prepared for narrow winding roads, steep cliffs, and potentially changing weather conditions. Take your time, drive carefully, and enjoy the journey.


It’s important to note that the weather along the Milford Road can be unpredictable, with frequent rainfall and snow during the winter months. It’s advisable to check the weather and road conditions before setting off and to carry chains if traveling during winter. It’s also recommended to fill up your fuel tank and pack some snacks and water, as there are limited facilities along the way.


For those who prefer not to drive, there are also coach and bus tours available that take you along the Milford Road to Milford Sound. These tours provide the convenience of having a knowledgeable guide who will share insights about the region’s history, geology, and wildlife, allowing you to fully appreciate the journey without the stress of driving.


No matter how you choose to experience it, a scenic drive to Milford Sound is a remarkable adventure. From the towering mountains and ancient rainforests to the breathtaking waterfalls and mirror-like lakes, every turn of the road reveals a new and awe-inspiring landscape. So sit back, enjoy the ride, and soak in the natural beauty of the Fiordland National Park.


Accommodation Options near Milford Sound

While Milford Sound itself is a remote and untouched wilderness, there are a few accommodation options available in the surrounding area for those who want to spend more time exploring this incredible destination. Although the options are limited, each offers its own unique experience and allows you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region.


The most convenient accommodation option is the Milford Sound Lodge, located just a short drive from the entrance to the sound. The lodge offers a range of accommodation types, including private chalets, self-contained units, backpacker bunkrooms, and powered campsites. Surrounded by stunning native bush and with a backdrop of towering mountains, the lodge provides a peaceful and scenic base for your Milford Sound adventure. The on-site restaurant and bar offer delicious meals and refreshments, allowing you to relax and unwind after a day of exploration.


If you prefer a more remote and secluded experience, there are several other accommodation options within the Fiordland National Park that are within driving distance of Milford Sound. These options include eco-lodges, rustic cabins, and backcountry huts. Staying in one of these remote locations allows you to truly disconnect from the outside world and immerse yourself in the tranquility of the natural surroundings. Keep in mind that these accommodations often have limited amenities and facilities, so it’s important to plan and prepare accordingly.


For those seeking a more adventurous experience, camping is also an option. There are several campsites located near Milford Sound, including the Cascade Creek Campsite and the Milford Sound Deep Water Basin Campsite. These campsites offer basic facilities and stunning natural backdrops for an unforgettable overnight stay. However, it’s important to note that camping in this remote area requires careful preparation and adherence to strict wilderness guidelines, including Leave No Trace principles.


If you prefer to stay closer to the town of Te Anau, located approximately two hours away from Milford Sound, you’ll find a wider range of accommodation options. Te Anau offers a variety of hotels, motels, lodges, and holiday parks to suit different budgets and preferences. Staying in Te Anau allows you to explore the Fiordland National Park at a more leisurely pace and take advantage of the many activities and attractions in the area.


It’s important to note that availability can be limited, especially during the peak summer season, so it’s advisable to book your accommodation well in advance. Whether you choose to stay near Milford Sound or in Te Anau, immersing yourself in the stunning natural surroundings will ensure a memorable and enriching experience.


Packing Tips for a Day Trip to Milford Sound

When embarking on a day trip to Milford Sound, it’s important to come prepared with the right essentials to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience in this stunning New Zealand destination. Here are some packing tips to help you make the most of your day at Milford Sound.

  • Layered Clothing: Milford Sound’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to dress in layers. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add a warm mid-layer, and top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. This will allow you to adjust your clothing as per the weather conditions throughout the day.
  • Sturdy Footwear: Comfortable and sturdy footwear is a must for exploring Milford Sound. Whether you’re taking a hike, walking along the shoreline, or stepping on a boat, make sure to wear shoes with good traction and ankle support to navigate the sometimes uneven and slippery terrain.
  • Sun Protection: Even on cloudy days, the New Zealand sun can be harsh. Pack sunscreen with a high SPF, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
  • Insect Repellent: Mosquitoes and sandflies can be present in certain areas around Milford Sound, especially during the warmer months. Be prepared by packing insect repellent to keep these bothersome bugs at bay.
  • Water and Snacks: It’s important to stay hydrated and fueled throughout the day. Carry a reusable water bottle and pack some high-energy snacks like granola bars, trail mix, or fruit to keep your energy levels up during your adventures.
  • Camera and Binoculars: Milford Sound is a photographer’s paradise, so don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone to capture the awe-inspiring scenery. Additionally, a pair of binoculars can help you spot wildlife and appreciate the intricate details of the landscape.
  • Rain Gear: Milford Sound is known for its frequent rainfall, so it’s essential to pack a waterproof jacket or poncho. This will keep you dry and comfortable, especially if you plan on taking a boat cruise or exploring outdoor trails.
  • Cash and Cards: While some facilities in Milford Sound accept card payments, it’s a good idea to carry some cash for any additional expenses, such as snacks, souvenirs, or optional activities.
  • First Aid Kit: It’s always wise to have a basic first aid kit on hand for any minor injuries or ailments. Include items such as band-aids, pain relievers, antiseptic wipes, and any necessary prescription medications.
  • Respectful Attire: Finally, when visiting Milford Sound, it’s important to be mindful of the natural environment and cultural sensitivities. Dress modestly and respectfully, especially if you plan to visit any areas of cultural significance or interact with local communities.

By packing these essentials, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy your day trip to Milford Sound. Remember to check the weather forecast beforehand and be flexible with your plans to make the most of your time in this stunning destination.


Important Things to Know before Visiting Milford Sound

Before embarking on your journey to Milford Sound, it’s important to be aware of a few key details to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some important things to know before visiting Milford Sound.

  • Weather and Road Conditions: Milford Sound experiences a temperate climate, with frequent rainfall throughout the year. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and pack accordingly with layered clothing and rain gear. It’s also essential to check the latest weather and road conditions before you start your journey, as road closures or disruptions can occur due to avalanches, landslides, or winter conditions.
  • Travel Time: The journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound can take around four to five hours by road, depending on weather and traffic conditions. It’s advisable to allow extra time for stops along the way to take in the stunning scenery and capture photographs. If you’re opting for a guided tour, check the duration of the tour and plan your day accordingly.
  • Book in Advance: Milford Sound is a popular tourist destination, particularly during the summer months. To secure the best tours, accommodations, and activities, it’s recommended to book in advance, especially if you have a specific date or time in mind. This applies not just to tours but also to accommodations near Milford Sound and other attractions like kayak rentals or scenic flights.
  • Pack Essentials: Milford Sound is a remote and protected area, so it’s important to pack essential items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, sturdy footwear, and rain gear. Carry enough water and snacks for the day, as there are limited facilities along the way. Don’t forget your camera or smartphone to capture the incredible scenery.
  • Responsible Tourism: Milford Sound is a pristine and fragile environment, and it’s crucial to practice responsible tourism. Respect the natural surroundings, follow designated trails, and adhere to signage and guidelines. Help preserve the beauty of Milford Sound for future generations by practicing Leave No Trace principles and taking any waste with you. Be mindful of the local wildlife and maintain a safe distance to avoid disturbing their natural habitat.
  • Cellular Coverage: Mobile phone coverage is limited along the Milford Road, and in some parts of Milford Sound, it may be non-existent. It’s best to inform your loved ones or friends about the lack of connectivity and establish a communication plan in case of emergencies.
  • Duration of Stay: While Milford Sound can be visited as a day trip from Queenstown or Te Anau, consider allowing more time if you want to fully immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of the fjord. Consider overnight options near Milford Sound or in Te Anau to have more time for activities and exploration.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Milford Sound is home to various wildlife species, including fur seals, dolphins, penguins, and a variety of bird species. As you appreciate these creatures from a safe distance, avoid any direct interaction, as it can have harmful effects on their behavior and wellbeing. Be mindful of their natural behaviors and refrain from feeding or approaching them.
  • Respect the Local Community: Milford Sound is an area of cultural importance, and it’s essential to respect the local community and their way of life. Be aware of any cultural protocols or restrictions when visiting sites or interacting with local residents. Show appreciation for the unique Maori culture and traditions that are part of the Fiordland region.

By keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure a memorable visit to Milford Sound while being respectful of the environment, wildlife, and local community. Embrace the natural beauty of this extraordinary destination and let it leave a lasting impression on your journey through New Zealand.



Milford Sound is a place of unmatched natural beauty and awe-inspiring landscapes. Nestled within the Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island, this remote destination offers a truly unforgettable experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.


From the moment you embark on your journey from Queenstown, the scenic drive to Milford Sound immerses you in breathtaking vistas of towering mountains, pristine lakes, and lush rainforests. The road itself is an adventure, with each turn revealing a new and awe-inspiring landscape.


Upon arriving at Milford Sound, you’ll be greeted by the grandeur of the fjord. The towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife create a mesmerizing and untouched natural sanctuary. Seals bask on the rocks, dolphins play in the waters, and penguins waddle along the shoreline, offering incredible wildlife encounters.


Cruising through Milford Sound allows for an up-close exploration of its beauty. The boat tours take you to the base of magnificent waterfalls, amidst the sheer cliffs, and into hidden bays, providing a unique perspective of this natural wonder. Kayaking, scenic flights, and guided hikes offer additional opportunities to immerse yourself in the splendor of this extraordinary destination.


To fully experience Milford Sound, it’s important to plan ahead. Consider the best time to visit, book your tours and accommodations in advance, and be mindful of the weather and road conditions. Pack essentials such as layered clothing, sun protection, rain gear, and comfortable footwear. Also, remember the principles of responsible tourism to preserve the beauty and integrity of this pristine environment.


Whether you have a day to explore or choose to stay longer, Milford Sound will leave an indelible mark on your heart. It’s a place where the sheer magnificence of nature surrounds you, where time seems to stand still amidst the tranquility and beauty. From the dramatic landscapes to the diverse wildlife, every moment in Milford Sound is a testament to the power and wonder of the natural world.


So venture forth, discover the enchantment of Milford Sound, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Embrace the adventure, immerse yourself in the beauty, and let the serenity of this extraordinary place touch your soul. Milford Sound awaits, ready to captivate and inspire you with its unrivaled grandeur.