A century by Kevin Pietersen saved face for England as teenage debutant Tim Southee gave New Zealand the upper hand on day one of the deciding third cricket Test here Saturday.
Pietersen's timely return to form with a solid 129 was the only firm resistance by England who struggled to 240 for seven at stumps.
Stuart Broad was not out 42, his highest Test score, with Ryan Sidebottom on three.
England captain Michael Vaughan had no hesitation in batting first when he won the toss with the wicket showing all the hallmarks of a batting gem.
But the game was less than four overs old when the 19-year-old Southee ignited the collapse of the England top order.
He dismissed Vaughan and Andrew Strauss early in the day and then came back before stumps with the second new ball to end Pietersen's resolute knock.
England were three down for just four runs and then four for 36 before Pietersen set about saving the side from total capitulation.
Pietersen and Paul Collingwood batted England out of a hole with an 89-run stand for the fifth wicket, and later put on 61 with Broad for the seventh wicket.
But despite Pietersen's heroics and the late resistance from Broad, New Zealand took overall honours on the first day of this third and final Test with both sides keen to break the 1-1 series deadlock rather than play for a draw.
It was a dream start for Southee, who trapped Vaughan plumb in front for two with the 11th ball of his Test career.
In his next over, he lured the scoreless Andrew Strauss into attacking a wide ball and Jamie How took a comfortable catch in the gully.
Chris Martin bowled Alastair Cook for two and New Zealand's other debutant Grant Elliott claimed his first Test scalp when he induced Ian Bell to poke at a long-hop to take an easy return catch and England.
Collingwood had a life on 13 when he survived a caught behind appeal from Martin and went on to reach 30, including six boundaries, before he cut recalled spinner Jeetan Patel straight to Elliott at backward point.
Patel also removed second-Test centurion Tim Ambrose who reached 11 before sending a simple edge to Ross Taylor at second slip and England went to tea at 140 for six.
Pietersen, meanwhile, continued to forge ahead despite the carnage at the other end, reaching his 100 with a boundary through the slips for his first century since his 101 against India at The Oval last August.
In all he struck 12 fours and a six off Vettori before edging Southee to the safe hands of How in the gully.
Southee finished the day with three for 46 from 21 overs, while Jeetan Patel had two for 37 off 18 with the remaining wickets going to Martin and Elliott.
England have kept the same side who won the second Test in Wellington by 126 runs, while New Zealand have made three changes, with Southee and Elliott replacing the injured Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram and with Patel in for seamer Mark Gillespie.
New Zealand won the first Test in Hamilton by 189 runs.