10 Minutes with: Marlon du Toit
Photographer and Safari Guide for Wild Eye
Going on safari is the experience of a lifetime. For the adventurous couple, it can be the perfect activity to include while on their honeymoon.
South African native Marlon du Toit has made an impressive career of his passion for photography and nature. As a safari guide for Wild Eye, Marlon takes visitors through some of the most pristine wildlife preserves, introducing them to the gorgeous terrain and dozens of exotic animals. When he’s not giving tours, Marlon captures breath-taking moments of lions, elephants, leopards and more.
How did you get your start as a photographer and safari guide?
I grew up immersed in Africa’s wildlife. As a child, I actually lived in the Kruger Park in South Africa. It’s no wonder I have such a love for nature! My dad also had a love of nature and we would spend as much time possible looking for lions and elephants on safari. He was a keen photographer and I simply took my love for photography and nature from him. I worked as a safari guide for Singita Game Reserves for over 6 years and established myself as a wildlife photographer while building a great online presence through platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Without question: the animals. It’s why I do what I do. I love spending time in the wilds with them, watching them, learning from them and also photographing them. I have a great passion for introducing people from around the world to these animals on safari, so seeing people’s reactions as an elephant towers nearby, or when lions walk within meters of their safari jeep is absolutely priceless. It changes their lives, there’s no doubt!
What makes a South African safari a great honeymoon destination?
It has it all! And it’s very different to other safari destinations across Africa. Across South Africa, hotels are fantastic, the people are friendly and the cuisine is incredible. To compliment their safari experience they can visit the Eastern and Western Cape. From wine-tastings in picturesque vineyards, to beach-front shopping, to cage diving with great white sharks, South Africa has so much to offer for the young and old alike!
How should honeymooners prepare for their trip?
It’s important to start planning well in advance. South Africa is a popular safari destination so you should secure your accommodations at least 8 – 10 months out. As the South African Rand is now far weaker against the USD, it’s an ideal time to visit! If you are travelling with kids, check the country’s travel policies because they may need special documentation.
Once logistics are settled, there are a few “must-have” items required for the perfect safari…
- A camera is a necessity, perhaps an entry-level DSLR. It’s worth doing a short course back home on making the most of your camera - you’ll see incredible things on safari and you’ll want to be ready to capture all of them!
- Binoculars are always handy, especially when animals are a little further away.
- Protection from the sun is critical. Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses & UV protected clothing are all recommended.
- A portable charger for you cell phone will be useful. Whilst you’re in the field on safari, you can update your social media without your battery running out.
- A game-drive bag is another “must-have” item. It’s best to keep all your cameras, chargers, sunscreens and extras in one bag. Premier camps like Singita will supply you with bags like this. You can also consider a “safari bag” since some charter flights flying into safari areas can’t accommodate big travel bags. Leave larger bags at the hotel in Johannesburg and simply travel with your smaller safari bag.
- Malaria prevention pills are very important. Most areas you’ll be visiting have the possibility of malaria. This is not prevalent during the months of April – October, but it’s always wise to consult your doctor at home and have him suggest the way forward.
Where do you recommend couples go on their first safari?
South Africa offers a wide variety for honeymooners; however, a few do however stand out above the rest for a combination of luxury, cuisine, quality game viewing, location and romance. Places like Singita being at the top of that list, Londolozi, Royal Malewane, Lion Sands and Sabi Sabi are all fantastic camps that take care of all of your needs during your stay.
What should a couple expect to see?
South African safari camps for the most part offer guests the opportunity to see the BIG 5. This consists of the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. These animals are no doubt high on any safari enthusiast’s bucket-list. You will likely also get to see zebra, giraffe, hippo, warthog, cheetah and more. Animals often venture far closer to the safari vehicles than what you may have thought. Over many years they grow accustomed to the presence of the jeeps and a trust exists between the movements of the jeep and the animal. It’s not uncommon for elephants to pass by within meters, or for a leopard to settle down for a nap in the shade of the jeep.
What are your 3 biggest dos and don’ts of going on a safari?
- Ask questions. Don’t for a moment think its silly. You are here not only to have a great time, but also to learn about Africa, animals and their behaviors.
- Take photos. There’s so much opportunity for great images. Remember a wide-angle lens to capture photos of the lodge & surrounds, as well as animals walking within close range of the safari jeep.
- Go on a bush walk. Being on foot in Africa is such an amazing experience. You will feel at-one with nature and to encounter wildlife while in the company of an experienced safari guide is sensational.
- Be scared. There’s little to fear on safari. These animals, big or small, have no interest in you as a human. Simply adhere to the rules of the park & camp, make sure you don’t wander around at night on your own and you’ll be just fine. This brings me to my next point…
- Stand up on the back of the safari jeeps. This is not only dangerous because you may fall off, but animals don’t like this. Strange as it may sound they don’t recognize you for being a human being sitting on the back of a jeep. They see you as one unit. The moment you separate yourself from that unit by standing you make yourself more visible and lets face it, do you really want the lion to figure out what you are? No, I thought so!
- Bring the wrong malaria tablets. There are several tablets on the market with horrible side effects and t this can have a devastating effect on your safari experience. The best I have come across would be Malarone, a drug relatively free of negative side effects. If you’re worried, chat with your GP or a pharmacist about what would be best for you.
Exploring South Africa must be exciting but also pose its challenges. Share with us one of your favorite and least favorite experiences while on a shoot.
Something you may encounter on safari, particularly with a poor safari guide, is a condition known locally as a “Viva Safari.” Guides that lack skill will often go from one sighting to another in quick succession, as if in a race to explore the entire reserve. In this scenario, you end up not only missing many smaller interesting facets of nature along the way, but you also lose out on quality time spent with beautiful animals. It’s a special thing, to spend quality time with a pride of lions, a leopard or a feeding herd of elephants. You get to know them better and on a personal level, something special and moments you’ll remember forever.
There are so many memorable moments during a shoot, but an experience I had during a trip in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe comes to mind. Whilst having a mid-morning coffee break with my guests on safari, we noticed two elephant bulls feeding nearby. The larger of the two elephant bulls noticed me and started feeding in my direction. I enjoyed his company and sat watching him about thirty yards from my guests. All of a sudden he started paying a little too much attention to me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and allowed him to keep coming, thinking he would stop before crossing the large gravel road separating us. He did no such thing and rushed towards me. I jumped to my feet, camera in hand and shouted at him to stop. Surprisingly, he did so obligingly. It felt as if time stood still, as if only the 2 of us existed in that moment. His head was held high, ears up and out. He seemed massive! I gently spoke with him but he seemed set on making a statement, that he was the boss out here in Mana, but then he charged at me again! And this time from less than 10 yards out. I raised my voice even more and kicked dust towards him. He stopped and again, just stood there, staring me down. By now my heart was thumping. I have been in situations like this many times before, but this bull was really set on challenging me and my only way out was to not let him get the upper-hand. If he came at me again I would have to make a bold move, the distance between us now only 5 yards. Just as he started his forward movement I lunged at him and swung my big camera right towards him! My aggressive posture seemed to do the trick and he then backed off. My heart sat in my throat both from excitement and no doubt few nerves. My guests rather enjoyed the standoff and one even managed to snap some pics of the encounter. Surely not an event I’m likely to forget!