All-rounder Rachin Ravindra bagged figures of three for 33 as South Africa slipped to 220 for six on the first day of the second Test at Seddon Park on Tuesday.
The Proteas won the toss and decided to bat on a bright, sunny day in Hamilton.
Ruan de Swardt, who was 55 not out, and Shaun von Berg, unbeaten on 34, will resume on day two after notching up 70 for the seventh wicket as the visitors look to avoid becoming the first South Africa team to suffer a Test series loss to New Zealand.
De Swardt, featuring in his second Test, scored his maiden half century with a four through the covers in the final hour of play and he and von Berg, making his debut at the age of 37, negotiated the second new ball to make it to stumps.
The Black Caps had made three changes to their team to introduce a four-pronged seam attack and two of them had an early impact.
After Matt Henry had removed Clyde Fortuin for a golden duck in the second over of the day, debutant quick Will O'Rourke made Neil Brand his first Test victim when he trapped the South Africa skipper in front for 25.
At 37, Neil Wagner is at the other end of the experience spectrum and he struck next, a trademark short ball sending Raynard van Tonder back for 32 after a diving catch in the gully from Tom Latham.
Ravindra, the ICC's Emerging Player of the Year and scorer of a double century in the first Test, took over to tear the heart out of the middle order with his left-arm spin.
Zubayr Hamza had made 20 when a wild slog sent the ball looping up to backward point where Mitchell Santner, dropped from the team but on the field as a substitute, took the catch.
Keegan Peterson followed cheaply two overs later when he edged a Ravindra delivery to Tim Southee in the slips, and David Bedingham (39) was unfortunate to exit when the ball came off his toe, onto his bat and straight to the short-leg fielder.
O'Rourke's inclusion did little to reduce the gap in experience between the two sides after the South Africa Cricket decided to send a weakened team to New Zealand and prioritise their financially lucrative Twenty20 competition.
— Additional input from Reuters