Tim Southee took 5-67 as New Zealand exploited an influential toss to contain Sri Lanka to 275-9 on Saturday on the first day of the first Test at the Basin Reserve.
A late unbeaten half-century by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella helped swing the day a little in Sri Lanka's favour. Dickwella hit 10 fours and was unbeaten on 73 at stumps, losing his last partner, Kasun Rajitha, to the last ball of the day.
Southee had earlier claimed three wickets inside the first four overs, leaving Sri Lanka 9-3 as the ball swung in overcast and humid conditions.
The innings was revived by a gallant fourth-wicket partnership of 133 between Dimuth Karunaratne (79) and Angelo Mathews (83), who frustrated the New Zealand bowlers for large parts of the first and second session.
Southee returned to claim a further two wickets after tea to stifle the Sri Lanka fightback and to complete his eighth five-wicket total in tests.
"There's still four hard days to go," Southee said. "I think (the key) was just to pitch it up. Anytime you have the Basin on day one, historically over the last couple of years there's been assistance for the new ball but if you can get through that it becomes easy."
On balance, New Zealand won the first session, Sri Lanka the second and the third was shared thanks to Dickwella's late flurry of boundaries.
Southee gave New Zealand the upper hand with an outstanding display of swing bowling with the new ball, dismissing Danushka Gunathilaka (1), Dhananjaya de Silva (1) and Kusal Mendis (2) in the space of his first two overs.
The remainder of the first session and most of the second was occupied by the determined rally led by Karunaratne and Mathews, who shared the crease for 42.3 overs or almost 3-1/2 hours.
New Zealand resorted to a barrage of short-pitched bowling, led by third seamer Neil Wagner and then by Southee who bowled round the wicket in an attempt to force the batsmen to play, with fielders behind square set to pounce on lofted shots.
Karunaratne and Mathews were both out, indirectly, to that tactic. Both were caught down leg by wicketkeeper B.J. Watling while attempting to play pull shots, despite the reinforcements on the boundary behind square.
The partnership ended at 133 and with the total 142-4 when Karunaratne sparred at a short ball from Neil Wagner, giving wicketkeeper B.J. Watling one of his four catches on the day.
Mathews fell in similar circumstances shortly after tea, lured into an injudicious pull by Southee and caught high and down leg by Watling.
While Southee went on to complete his five-wicket bag with the wickets of Mathews and captain Dinesh Chandimal, the Sri Lanka resistance didn't end.
Dickwella took it up and unleashed an array of innovative shots to reach his 10th half century in Tests.