Replacement first five eighth Chris Noakes landed a late penalty to give the Highlanders a 19-17 win over the Wellington Hurricanes and maintain their winning start to the Super Rugby season.
Noakes landed the 35-metre effort from the right flank in the 75th minute to make it four wins from four for the Highlanders and take them back to the top of the New Zealand conference.
The Highlanders failed to reach the high level of play they had demonstrated in the three previous wins but were happy to edge another close-fought game.
Elsewhere the Western Force upset the New South Wales Waratahs 21-20, posting their first win of the season in Sydney and consigning the Waratahs to their worst start to a Super Rugby campaign in 15 years.
After suffering similarly-narrow defeats against the high-flying Highlanders and titleholders the Queensland Reds, the Tahs have won just one from four, matching the franchise's poor start in 1997.
And the Sharks beat the champion Queensland Reds 27-22 in Durban.