Alastair Cook and England captain Michael Vaughan both fell cheaply Thursday in a match New Zealand have to win to level the three-match series at 1-1.
But Andrew Strauss, England's century hero in their six-wicket second Test win at Old Trafford, was 37 not out and Kevin Pietersen, yet to score a boundary, unbeaten on 15.
New Zealand opening bowlers Chris Martin and Kyle Mills both quickly justified captain Daniel Vettori's decision to field first on a soft, green-tinged pitch as the Black Caps skipper looked to apply early pressure.
They each beat England's left-handed opening combination of Strauss and Cook on the outside edge, the pace duo making the ball cut away off the seam and lift sharply.
Mills then bowled Cook, only half forward, off an inside edge for six to leave the hosts 14 for one in the sixth over.
Next ball Mills produced a near unplayable delivery to Vaughan which cut away and bounced steeply.
But Vaughan got off the mark with a trademark cover-driven four off Martin and two balls later repeated the dose.
The Yorkshire batsman then made it three boundaries in four balls when he forced Martin down the ground off the backfoot.
But first change Iain O'Brien, who bowled well into the wind at Old Trafford, ended Vaughan's innings with his 10th ball.
O'Brien clean bowled Vaughan for 16, the off-stump knocked back after the batsman missed a straight ball attempting a drive.
England were now 44 for two in the 13th over and the run-rate slowed to such an extent they went 15 overs without a boundary until Strauss cut Jacob Oram behind square on the offside.
New Zealand were forced into making a late change after Brendon McCullum was declared unfit to keep wicket shortly before play because of a back problem.
Wicket-keeper Gareth Hopkins was called up for his Test debut with McCullum included as a batsman only after the out-of-form James Marshall was dropped from the side in the only personnel change to New Zealand's second Test side.
England, for the first time since 1885, named an unchanged side for the fifth successive Test.