New Zealand ended the first day of their one-off Test against Zimbabwe in Napier firmly in front after captain Ross Taylor's composed 111 not out.

It was his sixth Test century, containing 13 boundaries and two sixes, and he found himself rarely troubled by a limp attack on a placid McLean Park pitch. Wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling was also not out on 15 at the close, helping the captain see off the second new ball.

Brendon Taylor had earlier won the toss and put the hosts in, but apart from Kyle Jarvis beating the edge several times in his first two overs, the other Zimbabwean bowlers failed to make any early impact with the new ball. Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum put on 124 for the first wicket, with Guptill posting a fluid half-century before falling to a catch behind from the debutant Shingi Masakadza after lunch.

Hopes were briefly raised when Kane Williamson was run out after a mix-up three overs later, but McCullum and Taylor were able to steady the ship and keep the score ticking over at 5.5 an over at one stage due to defensive fields from the Zimbabwean captain as well as poor direction from his bowling charges.

Leg-spinner Graeme Cremer struggled, with one over carted for 17 runs as the batsmen grew in confidence. McCullum seemed set for a century before he fell for 81 just after tea, Dean Brownlie joining him in the hut soon after to once again give the African side a small glimmer of hope.

Daniel Vettori promptly quashed any thoughts of a collapse, asserting the home side's dominance with seven fours in an entertaining 38 from 46 balls. Former captain Vettori putt on 82 with his successor before Cremer finally got it right and had the left-hander stumped by Tatenda Taibu with off a googly.

At the other end, Taylor was hardly pressured and went to one of the easier Test tons he will ever make. He will relish the opportunity to spend some extended time in the middle with a far tougher series against South Africa looming.

The Zimbabweans didn't do themselves any favours by dropping Brownlie in the slips, capping a day of tepid bowling and strangely negative captaincy from the usually effervescent Taylor, who was perhaps feeling the pressure of again needing to to prove that his team are, indeed, worthy of their Test status.

He will be disappointed with the day's play, especially after his troops recently pushed this opposition so close in their second match back after their self-imposed exile from the Test arena last year.

This is Zimbabwe's first away Test since Centurion in 2005, and they will need to inject some spark and urgency into their play on day two if they are to have any chance of testing New Zealand.

The Black Caps have a fairly long tail, and Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher will certainly be hoping that Jarvis, Masakadza and company can find their lines and strike early on the second morning to expose it. If so, it would enable Zimbabwe to bat for a long period on a pitch that certainly seems to hold very few demons.

Otherwise, the Kiwis are expected take their total from good to imposing, leaving the Zimbabweans with a huge mountain to climb.