The Blackcaps trail Sri Lanka by 116 runs at lunch on day three of the first test, with Daryl Mitchell leading the reply at Hagley Oval.
Mitchell added a further 31 runs from his overnight score to be 71 not out after the first session, with New Zealand 239/7 at the interval.
The Blackcaps entered day three at 162/5, with Michael Bracewell and Mitchell tasked with inspiring a revival.
But Bracewell fell for 25 runs, after he nicked spin-bowler Prabath Jayasuriya to the wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella right before the drinks break.
That brought Blackcaps captain Tim Southee to the crease, who was in an adventurous mood, quickly signaling his intent to attack the Sri Lankan bowlers.
He found the boundary rope on four occasions, including a six, before he succumbed to a spectacular catch in the deep.
Southee looked to clear Kasun Rajitha, but a flying Lahiru Kumara ended his illustrious innings with a full stretch dive to his left at deep-backward square.
Tailender Matt Henry looked comfortable in his two overs for an unbeaten three runs, before the umpires called for an early lunch.
Sri Lanka 355 (Mendis 87, Karunaratne 50, Mathews 47, de Silva 46; Southee 5/64, Henry 4/80) NZ 239/7 (Mitchell 71no, Latham 67; Kumara 2/56, Fernando 2/56)
New Zealand trail by 116 runs at lunch on day three.