On the rough road ahead is the dark shape of an animal, running away at full pace. In the dim dawn light, it looks a little like one of the wallabies that bound about the scrubby plains of Tasmania's Central Highlands. But no, it's far too short and shabby, moving more like a mangy dog. I pedal faster on my bicycle for a better look. Suddenly, the creature stops and turns its head, bares its teeth and growls.
I'm on a cold and lonely track, rambling across the remote wilderness. This isolated World Heritage area is home to hikers, fishing enthusiasts and several other strange beasts. I have already witnessed wombats by torchlight and a brace of brawling wallabies. And now this, an unscheduled stand-off with a Tasmanian Devil.
I slam on the bicycle brakes and stop short on the dirt road, keeping my distance from the carnivorous marsupial. It's heavy set, with a squat build and strong jaws. The iconic animal is small and scruffy but kinda scary – well, at least it seems so to this anxious mainlander.
The devil eyeballs me for several seconds – perhaps sizing me up in my activewear – before galloping across the dirt track and disappearing inside a nearby den. I let out a deep breath and resume pedalling, my eyes peeled for any more early-morning encounters.
On the road ahead lies Thousand Lakes Lodge, rising from the plateau like a refuge. Inside, there's an open fire warming the large, light-filled lounge. I plant myself in a comfy chair, cocooned from the wild world outside.
The lodge, about 90 minutes south-west of Launceston, is tailor-made for keeping the elements at bay. The striking two-storey building was originally built in the 1980s on the alpine landscape – where temperatures can drop to about minus 15 degrees – to house CSIRO scientists training for expeditions to Antarctica.
The building was abandoned in about 2000 and became a squat for fishermen, who stripped timber from the walls for firewood in winter, when snow cloaks the banks of the lakes. The derelict lodge was eventually listed for demolition, before being saved by local investors.
Among them was former Australian motor racing champion Marcos Ambrose, who was born and raised in Launceston. "The building was an ugly duckling," he tells me. "It had been completely gutted. There was no power, no wiring, no bathrooms. There was a Tasmanian Devil living inside, which we had to shoo out the door.
"The building was a forgotten relic, so we decided to put a modern twist on it."
The result of his labours is an intimate, nine-room retreat, which opened in 2016. The resurrected boutique lodge, which sits about 1000 metres above sea level, reminds me of a ski chalet or gentlemen's club. The large communal lounge and dining areas are filled with dark wood and leather couches. The rooms are a little lighter, with bright white walls and views across the pristine world heritage wilderness.
There are actually more than 1000 lakes and tarns dotted across the rugged landscape – best guesses range from 3000 to 5000. The best way to explore them is via one of the lodge's guided fly fishing trips. I opt for a half-day adventure, accompanied by Australian fly fishing captain Craig Coltman, from the nearby Rainbow Lodge Tasmania.
Fishing for trout in the Central Highlands is like trying to catch a tiger, he says. He hands me a lean rod and we wade in the shallows of a small lake, looking for dark blobs in the cool, clear water.
By accident, more than design, I somehow manage to lure a teeny fish from the shadows of a submerged rock. Coltman smiles then shows me how to release the trout back into the water.
"This is wild fishing," he says. "They are too special to keep and cook."
Instead, I get my fill in the lodge's dining room, which serves hearty fare such as Tuscan bean soup, poached salmon or hunks of beef cheeks. The food, like the lodge itself, is made for comfort. Over dinner, I watch two young wallabies tussling like bar-room brawlers on the lawn outside.
Later, we take torches and wander into the cold night, searching for platypus in a nearby stream. Instead, we stumble on a wombat waddling among the thick clumps of kerosene bush. Shining above us is a thick blanket of stars, unspoiled by air or light pollution.
Outdoor enthusiasts can also borrow the lodge's electric-powered bikes, which make neat work of the dirt tracks that run between the lakes. Bushwalkers might instead opt for a multi-day hiking and camping trip across the vast wilderness of the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, taking in the ancient dolerite boulders and distant mountain peaks.
But staying indoors is no less entertaining, particularly when it's cold outside. We pass some wonderfully idle hours reading and relaxing on the couch, while listening to the lodge's eclectic collection of vinyl records, including The Happy Wonderland of Bert Kaempfert.
The adjoining bar's selection of local wines, craft beers and spirits was a perfect accompaniment to the retro tunes. Several glasses of Goaty Hill pinot noir by the fire put paid to thoughts of another bike ride the following morning. Revisiting that Tasmanian Devil can wait until another time.
Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all have frequent flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Hobart and Launceston. Tigerair flies from Melbourne only. Thousand Lakes Lodge is about a 90-minute drive from Launceston and a two-hour drive from Hobart. Car hire is available at both airports.
Rooms at Thousand Lakes Lodge are available from $265 a night. Phone (03) 6346 1990 or see thousandlakeslodge.com.au
Peter Munro was a guest of Thousand Lakes Lodge.