Jamie How made a career-best 90 as New Zealand's batsmen came close to taming South Africa's bowlers for the first time on their tour in the first one-day international at Kingsmead Sunday.
New Zealand made 248 for six after being sent in on a pitch which had some early life.
How, batting at number three, made a slow start after the early dismissal of Lou Vincent, but batted with increasing confidence, hitting 11 boundaries in a 124-ball innings.
How shared stands of 72 for the second wicket with Brendon McCullum and 75 for the third wicket with Scott Styris. Both his partners made 40.
He looked set for a maiden international century before he tried to work a yorker-length ball from Andre Nel to the leg side and edged it into his stumps.
South Africa did not pick fast bowler Dale Steyn, who demoralised the Black Caps when he took 20 wickets in two Tests.
Instead they opted for the team that clinched a one-day series in Pakistan last month, with the only change being opening batsman Morne van Wyk for Herschelle Gibbs, who failed a fitness test on an injured knee.
Veteran all-rounder Shaun Pollock bowled four maidens in an opening spell of seven overs in which he conceded only eight runs, making the ball move sharply off the seam. But McCullum and How survived a testing examination and built a solid foundation for the innings.
It was the first time on tour, following two Tests and a Twenty20 international, that New Zealand topped 200 while How was only the second New Zealander to make a half-century against South Africa, after Stephen Fleming made 54 in the second innings of the second Test.
New Zealand were again without all-rounder Jacob Oram, struggling to recover from a hamstring injury, but fast bowler Chris Martin was back from illness for the opening clash of a three-match series.