Habana scored his 31st try for South Africa two minutes before half-time
New Zealand (9) 19
Tries: Kaino Cons: Carter Penalties: Carter 4
South Africa (8) 8
Tries: Habana Penalties: James
New Zealand opened their Tri-Nations campaign with a bruising victory over world champions South Africa.
Daniel Carter's superb delayed pass saw Jerome Kaino cross over in the corner on 46 minutes, with the fly-half adding the conversion from the touchline.
The All Blacks had led 9-3 in the first half before Bryan Habana reduced the deficit to a point after finishing off a fine break on 38 minutes.
The Test was the first to be played under the IRB's new experimental laws.
The defeat - South Africa's first in almost a year - sees the All Blacks extend their unbeaten home run to 30 Tests.
Fresh from Test victories over northern hemisphere opponents, both sides were keen to impose their authority in incessant rain the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
A physical and scrappy first 20 minutes saw both sides exchanging a series of brutal challenges, culminating in a mini brawl involving South African captain John Smit and Brad Thorne.
Both Thorne and Smit received stern words from Australian referee Stuart Dickinson, who awarded South Africa a simple penalty easily dispatched by Butch James.
Opposite number Carter had already landed a penalty and the All Black number 10 added two further kicks to give the home side a six-point cushion.
Carter's left boot almost extended the lead further when his perfectly weighted kick was collected by Ma'a Nonu, who set up Rudi Wulf to charge through a hole in the defence, only for the winger to be hauled down 10 metres from the South African tryline.
But the world champions closed the gap with an industrious try from Habana.
An offload on the halfway line from Adrian Jacobs found Jean de Villiers, whose sniping break set up the Bulls winger to outpace Mils Muliaina and Wulf for his 31st Test try, his third against the All Blacks.
James failed to add the conversion, a kick which would have given the visitors a precious one-point lead going into the interval.
Coach Graham Henry's half-time team talk had its desired effect when Carter turned on the magic six minutes into the second half.
The fly-half's delayed pass found Thorne, who shipped the ball out to number eight Kaino to touch down in the corner, with Carter adding the extra two points with an extraordinary kick on the touchline.
The All Blacks thought they had added a second score 10 minutes later when Conrad Smith latched on to Carter's pinpoint grubber kick.
But referee Dickinson disallowed the try when he adjudged the centre was in front of the kick, although replays suggested his decision was particularly harsh on Smith.
Desperate to inject fresh attacking impetus, South Africa coach Pieter de Villiers introduced Francois Steyn and Percy Montgomery from the bench.
An audacious drop-goal inside his own half from Steyn on 65 minutes just dropped under the bar, but the 21-year-old's attempt was the closest the world champions came to adding to their second-half points tally.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Rudi Wulf; Daniel Carter, Andy Ellis; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Greg Somerville, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Adam Thomson, Rodney So'oialo (capt), Jerome Kaino.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Neemia Tialata, Anthony Boric, Sione Lauaki, Jimmy Cowan, Stephen Donald, Leon MacDonald.
South Africa: Conrad Jantjes; Odwa Ndungane, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana; Butch James, Ricky Januarie; Gurthro Steenkamp, John Smit (capt), CJ van der Linde, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Joe van Niekerk.
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Brian Mujati, Andries Bekker, Luke Watson, Bolla Conradie, Francois Steyn, Percy Montgomery.