Openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton capitalised on the cheap dismissal of England by guiding New Zealand to 131 without loss at close of play on the second day of the first test on Thursday.
Seamer Neil Wagner and spinner Bruce Martin had earlier taken four wickets apiece to shock England by dismissing the misfiring tourists for 167 in less than two sessions at University Oval.
Rutherford finished the day 77 not out in his first test innings, while the Fulton had made 46 in his first test since 2009 and New Zealand will resume on Friday needing just another 37 runs to take a first innings lead.
The opening batsmen made a nervous start against fired up pacemen James Anderson and Steve Finn with Fulton looking particularly tentative, pushing at the ball away from his body rather than getting behind the line.
He settled, though, and when he hit successive boundaries off Anderson in the seventh over, England’s Barmy Army of supporters sparked into life in an attempt to inspire their team.
The first “Barmy Army!” chants of the three-test series only resulted in Rutherford twice slapping Finn through the covers to the boundary, however.
The pair went on to post New Zealand’s first opening stand of more than 100 in 11 tests and ensured the home side took the honours on the first day of action after all play on Wednesday was washed out by rain.
Wagner had set the tone for a good day for the hosts by blasting the top off England’s vaunted batting order with three wickets – including captain Alastair Cook (10) and Kevin Pietersen in successive deliveries.
“Today was one of those days where it didn’t really feel that great but things just happened,” a beaming Wagner told reporters after posting career-best figures of four for 42.
“I bowled a wide half tracker to Cook and he hit it straight to point.
“It’s one of those days. You get freakish days in cricket where you bowl well and field well but nothing happens and you end up taking 1-100.
“Other days you feel not really that good and you get wickets and it just happens to you.”
England went into lunch at 81 for five and Martin, making his debut at the age of 32, drove home the advantage in the first hour after the break by claiming a trio of wickets for himself.
Anderson and Finn provided some late order resistance with a 47-run partnership but Wagner ended the stand when the latter was caught in the deep by Rutherford for 20.
Martin triggered an early tea break by wrapping up the innings when Wagner caught Anderson for 23 to give the left-arm spinner figures of four for 43 from 14 overs.
New Zealand’s attack was tidy without being overly penetrating and England’s batsmen were largely the architects of their own downfall.
Jonathan Trott top-scored with 45 but, like Cook, Ian Bell (24), Joe Root (four) and Matt Prior (23), he fell to a false shot.
“We just didn’t play well,” said Trott. “The shots were on we just didn’t execute them right. The shots were there and I can’t fault the shot, I can fault the execution.
“It didn’t go our way and New Zealand played better than us on the day. We’re going to have to play well to get back into the game.”
New Zealand won the toss and chose to bowl
England first innings
A. Cook c Rutherford b Wagner 10
N. Compton b Southee 0
J. Trott c Boult b Martin 45
K. Pietersen lbw b Wagner 0
I. Bell c Rutherford b Wagner 24
J. Root c Brownlie b Boult 4
M. Prior c Williamson b Martin 23
S. Broad c Brownlie b Martin 10
S. Finn c Rutherford b Wagner 20
J. Anderson c Wagner b Martin 23
M. Panesar not out 1
Extras (w-2, b-4, lb-1) 7
Total (all out, 55 overs) 167
Fall of wickets: 1-5 2-18 3-18 4-64 5-71 6-108 7-109 8-119 9-166
Bowling: T. Southee 15-3-45-1, T. Boult 15-4-32-1 (w-1), N. Wagner 11-2-42-4 (w-1), B. Martin 14-4-43-4
New Zealand first innings
P. Fulton not out 46
H. Rutherford not out 77
Extras (lb-8) 8
Total (for no wickets, 42 overs) 131
Still to bat: Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie, Brendon McCullum (captain), BJ Watling, Bruce Martin, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
Bowling: J. Anderson 9-1-35-0, S. Finn 12-2-35-0, S. Broad 10-1-23-0, M. Panesar 8-1-26-0, J. Trott 2-0-4-0, J. Root 1-1-0-0
Remaining fixtures March 14-18 – second test, Wellington March 22-26 – third test, Auckland