- Hannah Wilkinson (48')
New Zealand had failed to win a game at their five previous World Cup appearances. On Thursday, forward Hannah Wilkinson fired home from close range from Jacqui Hand's pinpoint cross in the 48th minute to secure a memorable victory.
"I am so, so proud," New Zealand co-captain Ali Riley said. "We have been fighting for this for so long."
Norway, champions in 1995, were disjointed and rarely looked as if they would get back on level terms.
Their best chance came from a right-footed shot from Tuva Hansen, which ricocheted off the crossbar in the 81st minute.
New Zealand's Ria Percival had the chance to put the game out of reach, but her penalty in the 90th minute hit the crossbar, setting up a nervy finish.
Norway threw players forward in search of an equaliser, but the stout New Zealand defence held firm.
"This is not what we had anticipated," Norway captain Maren Mjelde said. "We woke up [in] the last 25 minutes but it was too late."
The crowd of 42,137 -- a record for a football match in New Zealand -- let out a roar as the match came to an end, with coach Jitka Klimkova burying her face in her hands as her players celebrated.
"There were a lot of doubters because of the [recent] results we had, but we believed -- we believed in ourselves this entire game," Riley said.
"We showed it and we played with confidence. The finish, this is what dreams are made of."
The win put New Zealand on track toward their goal of getting out of the group stage. They face debutants the Philippines on Tuesday.
The evening began with a dazzling opening ceremony that featured pyrotechnics and honoured the region's Indigenous heritage, though hours earlier a shooting in Auckland left three dead.
"We wanted to bring something positive tonight and we thought of the victims and the first responders and they made us so proud and we just wanted to just help bring something amazing today," Riley said.
Norway have five days to regroup before they face Switzerland in their second group stage match in Hamilton. Striker Ada Hegerberg told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK they had to get their attack going.
"We weren't there," she said of their disappointing performance.
"We had some decent chances that we could have scored on ... But really we did not manage to create an established attack that could put pressure on them, which we could have done."
Co-hosts Australia also open their World Cup campaign on Thursday in Sydney against Ireland, though they are without captain Sam Kerr, who was ruled out of two games after picking up a calf injury in training a day earlier.
- Yoshimi Yamashita