Helga Hvanndal

Lighthouse Solitude

Text, photographs, and videoBirna Ketilsdóttir Schram
Cameraman and droneJón Guðmundsson
Location 63° 24,13' N, 019° 07,83' V

Ranger Helga Hvanndal has worked in remote areas all over the country.  She describes the time when she lived completely alone in Dyrhólaey Lighthouse and the feelings she experienced travelling in the Icelandic wilderness.

“The silence becomes addictive. Some find it uncomfortable, but I find solace in it.”

After exchange studies in Berlin where she studied philosophy, there came a time when Helga needed to find a job. Her friend suggested the Ranger position and before she knew it she had moved out in the country and started working.

“This was a huge challenge for me. I was young, had just completed my degree in philosophy, and decided to seclude myself on some remote island for a few months. All by myself.

It was the birds and me. That’s it. In any case, I considered this a character-building challenge and had no idea that I would crave this place, again and again, year after year.

Helga Hvanndal is a city girl who unintentionally became a nature lover. She grew up in

Reykjavík, close to downtown, graduated from the Humanities Department at University of Iceland, and is currently in the finishing stages of writing her master thesis in the Environmental and Natural Resources Programme at the university. For the last six years, Helga has spent most of her time in Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, where she lived and worked as a Ranger.

“Rangers work in national parks or protected areas. We aim to be the contact between nature and tourists. These are all places that are unique and are therefore protected. As a result, they are sought-after tourist attractions.

We need to find balance between allowing people to enjoy and explore these beautiful places all the while trying to control where people go and how they experience the area. The problem lies both in dealing with dangerous circumstances as well as protecting vulnerable lowlands from too much tourist traffic.”

I said goodbye to my boss and was all alone on the island. I remember wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into.

Dyrhólaey is a popular tourist destination, as it offers a unique experience where you see heavy waves crashing on the shore, as well as bustling birdlife. The island was protected by 1978 by Icelandic authorities to protect and reserve the area in its natural state. A Ranger resides in the area year-round and handles the infrastructure, nature preservation, and visitor education. Dyrhólaey Lighthouse was built in 1927, and was originally designed by Guðjón Samúelsson.

“Of all the places that I have stayed in during the last six years, I have spent the most time in Dyrhólaey. I am constantly on the move because of my job. I vividly remember my first day, when my boss gave me a tour of the area. It was in the middle of a storm, despite it being in summer, and my boss had to rush home before the road would close. I said goodbye to my boss and was all alone on the island. I remember wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. The next day, the weather was fine and the whole sense of the area was worlds apart from the day before. Everything changed, the closeness felt different, and the energy was much more positive. I immediately felt at peace.”

Helga has been actively photographing these magnificent places from her work travels, and now shares her photos with her followers on Instagram.

“This has become a part of my work, finding remarkable places and capturing their uniqueness in photographs.”

She tells the story of when she once went all alone up onto a heath and had the most amazing experience where she felt nature’s incredible power and magic.

“I went hiking for much longer than I intended and suddenly found myself all alone high up in the mountains. It was already dusk when I fully grasped how alone I was. Suddenly, I became conscious of the forces of nature around me and felt so unbelievably tiny. It was so majestic and I was utterly spellbound. I also became quite frightened. And then there was the silence. It is strange to say it but it truly is addictive. Some find it uncomfortable but I find solace in it. This is why I always come back to this job, again and again. This job is a privilege. I cannot possibly quit.”

Clothing that Helga recommends