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Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn ran rampant as New Zealand lost eight wickets in the final session – including five in 20-ball spell when the shell-shocked home side did not score a single run -- to be all out for 185.
Philander finished with figures of four for 70 and Steyn took three for 49, as skipper Graeme Smith's decision to send New Zealand in to bat on a green-tinged wicket in Hamilton paid off spectacularly.
It was just reward for the South African bowlers, who had toiled for little reward after early success in dislodging New Zealand's openers Rob Nicol (2) and Martin Guptill (22) before lunch.
While New Zealand claimed consolation wickets as South Africa went to stumps at 27 for two, the Proteas succeeded in asserting their dominance after the first Test in Dunedin ended in a rain-affected draw.
More rain and a a stubborn 89-run partnership between Brendon McCullum and New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor frustrated the Proteas for much of the day in Hamilton and Smith may have been having second thoughts about bowling first.
McCullum worked patiently to notch his 22nd Test half century after three hours at the crease, allowing his aggressive instincts to surface as he smashed a six off Morne Morkel to bring up the milestone.
Another McCullum rush of blood to the head then sparked New Zealand's horror show, the batsman rashly trying to pull a head-high Steyn bouncer out of the park and instead offering Jacques Rudolph an easy catch on the boundary.
His dismissal on 61 was the latest example of McCullum failing to turn a good start into a big total and it had dire consequences for his team.
From a respectable 133-2, New Zealand were reduced to 133-7 as Philander and Steyn gleefully ripped through a middle order that appeared by turns transfixed and leaden-footed.
Philander coaxed a thick edge off Taylor (44), then took two wickets in his next over, clean bowling Daniel Vettori for a duck and snaring an edge from Doug Bracewell which carried to Mark Boucher for the same score.
Steyn, not to be outdone, charged in from the other end between Philander's overs to send Kane Williamson back to the pavilion without bothering the scorers.
Wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk (21) and Mark Gillespie (27) mounted a valiant rearguard action but the damage was done and South Africa had little trouble wrapping up the innings.
The Black Caps could at least take comfort in dismissing Smith (13), who scored 53 and 115 in the first Test, after an acrobatic dive from van Wyk to claim an edge from a Chris Martin delivery.
Martin also claimed nightwatchman Steyn for four and New Zealand will need more success from their pacemen on Friday if they want to remain in the match.