New Zealand slumped to 96-5 before Vettori lifted them to 176-5 on Day One at the Gabba.
Brisbane: Daniel Vettori came to the rescue with a disciplined unbeaten 45 after New Zealand lost five quick wickets to one of the most inexperienced Australian bowling attacks in decades, as honors were shared on the opening day of the two-Test series on Thursday.
Mitchell Starc took his second wicket in Test cricket in the over after lunch to remove Jesse Ryder as New Zealand slumped to 96-5 after winning the toss and then wasting a promising 44-run opening stand.
Dean Brownlie (32 not out) made a nervous start, surviving two dropped catches and a streaky inside edge, before recovering to partner Vettori in an 80-run, sixth-wicket stand that lifted New Zealand to 176-5 when deteriorating light forced umpires to call tea after just 51 overs. Rain washed out the evening session of the first Test at the Gabba.
"Probably advantage to Australia at the moment," McCullum said. "Without that partnership between Dan and Dean, we'd be deep in trouble. They managed to get some momentum together and put us back in the game a bit."
"We're slightly behind the 8-ball but we're going OK. We still think we're not far away from putting up a competitive total ... and hopefully we can expose some inexperience in the Australian top order as well, and try to utilize the scoreboard pressure we might create by batting first."
Skipper Michael Clarke, leading Australia in his first Test series on home soil, only had himself to blame for losing momentum when he dropped a routine catch at slip off Peter Siddle soon after the fifth wicket fell. Brownlie was on three when he edged to Clarke.
"No one likes to drop 'em, but we'll be right. We'll get back on tomorrow and hopefully knock over the last five wickets and get on with the batting," said Starc, who was the best of the Australian bowlers with 2-52 from 13 overs, including the only wicket in the abbreviated middle session.
The 21-year-old Starc, a converted wicket-keeper, said being handed his baggy green Australian cap from cricket great Richie Benaud was something he'd never forget.
"Obviously I'm pretty proud just to get the baggy green but to take a couple of wickets was fantastic as well, albeit that I bowled a few better balls and didn't get wickets, but I'm not going to give them back either."
After being dropped by Clarke, Brownlie miscued a cut shot in the next over from Starc to point, where David Warner got both hands to the ball but couldn't stop it skidding to the boundary. The New Zealand batsman then inside edged a good-length ball from Starc millimeters past his off stump in a french cut to the boundary to reach 12.
After that, the New Zealand batsmen settled down and the rash shots that characterized the hour before and just after lunch diminished. Vettori faced 66 balls and hit three boundaries, but kept the tempo rolling with singles and twos.
The young Australian attack was put to work immediately when Ross Taylor won the toss and elected to bat, and responded to some early aggression from Brendon McCullum (34) to have New Zealand reeling at 94-4 at lunch.
All three Australians on Test debut contributed in the first session, with Starc and James Pattinson each getting a wicket and opening batsman Warner holding a sharp catch to remove McCullum from Starc's bowling.
McCullum gave Pattinson a contemptuous welcome to Test cricket when he crashed three boundaries in the first over. But after a loose start the pace trio rallied and Siddle, leading the attack in just his 26th Test, broke the 44-run opening stand when he had Martin Guptill (13) caught behind in the 11th over.
Left-armer Starc was introduced in the 8th over and troubled the batsmen with some extra bounce and swing, hitting McCullum in the body and helmet before eventually removing the New Zealand opener, who hit seven boundaries before angling an attempted cut shot straight to Warner at point in the 16th over.
Taylor made a nervy start to only his second Test as New Zealand captain, getting off the mark when he slashed Starc over the slips for four and then getting a huge reprieve in the next over when Usman Khawaja put down a regulation catch at short leg from Pattinson's bowling.
Khawaja composed himself to hold a simple bat-pad offering from Kane Williams (19) in spinner Nathan Lyon's third over ever at the Gabba as the New Zealanders slumped to 78-3.
After enduring some early punishment, Pattinson finally claimed his first Test wicket when Taylor (13) irresponsibly dragged a ball back onto his leg stump five minutes before lunch.
The Australians were playing with a new-look attack after five front-line players were ruled out with injuries last week, including pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson and all-rounder Shane Watson.
Clarke is captain at home after tours to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, while Mickey Arthur only joined the team last weekend as head coach. The former South Africa coach is the first foreigner to guide Australia's national team.
The Black Caps, bidding for their first victory across the Tasman for 26 years, omitted fast bowler Trent Boult and brought in veteran off-spinner Daniel Vettori, who sat out the warm-up four-day game against Australia A in Brisbane.