Sean Williams made the fastest Test century by a Zimbabwe batsman to hold up New Zealand before the tourists took a 1-0 series lead with an emphatic innings-and-117-run-victory in Bulawayo on Sunday.
The Black Caps needed only five wickets to win the first Test on day four, but had to bide their time as Williams (119) made a magnificent maiden Test ton, which he brought up in 106 balls in only his third match in the longest format.
Left-hander Williams, who had been off the field suffering from flu on Saturday, and captain Graeme Cremer (33) put on 118 for the seventh wicket after Trent Boult (4-52) had struck early on to get rid of Craig Ervine (50) and Zimbabwe were finally all out for 295 after being reduced to 17-4 on day three.
New Zealand will be strong favourites to wrap up a 2-0 series victory by winning the second Test, which starts at the same venue next Saturday.
The tourists looked set to seal victory in the morning session when Ervine was adjudged to have edged Boult behind after adding only one run to his overnight total to bring up his first Test half-century.
Number eight Williams had other ideas, playing in one-day mode with sweeps, ramp shots and glorious drives to race to his half-century off only 63 balls - 11 of which were dispatched to the boundary.
The 29-year-old, whose previous Test-best was only 31, continued to take an aggressive approach as Cremer struggled, but hung in there as Neil Wagner (2-62) struck him on four occasions.
Zimbabwe moved on to 221-6 at lunch and added another 21 before Cremer was trapped leg before by Ish Sodhi (1-66), but Williams continued relentlessly and took two off the spinner to reach a richly deserved century.
Tim Southee (2-68) bowled Regis Chakabva (11) around his legs before the outstanding Williams holed out after finding the boundary 21 times and Wagner, who took 6-41 in the first innings, finally ended Zimbabwe's resistance when Donald Tiripano (14) was caught behind.