My preference was to go to the right around the knob to the saddle with North Crater, and from there head back to the ridge above the Mangatepopo Valley (Hardman's Ridge). I went ahead and checked that the terrain was free of ice and then we set off on this option. Taking care to stay high and avoid the steep sided gullies we made good progress. Much to Heather's surprise we did indeed pick up a clear but unmarked track up on the ridge. We followed this down the valley for a while and then started looking for the way down. After a couple of false starts we found where the track down came out down by the stream. We started off cross-country down hill and then happened across the downhill track. From there it was easy travel back to the main tourist track and back to the car.
Heather had initially been a little reticent when I had suggested the off-track travel back to the car. But the terrain was good, route-finding was easy, some fun running on soft scree and moss, and for the most part we were out of the cold wind. The air temperature was about 2 degrees celsius, with winds of perhaps 50-60km/h and higher on the crater rim. The resulting wind chill took the temperature well below zero, soan option that took us out of the wind made for a much morre comfortable and enjoyable day.