The All Whites suffered a big blow just before kick off when star striker Chris Wood was forced to the bench with a hamstring injury.
He was replaced in the starting team by Kosta Barbourouses.
However, the All Whites responded well to the setback holding their own against a classy Peruvian team which dominated much of the early possession and territory.
The South Americans, ranked 10th in the world and heavily favoured to advance to next year's finals in Russia, had only two real chances to score a crucial away goal as home captain Winston Reid marshalled the All Whites' defence with aplomb.
New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic made a goal-line save after a mixup in defence and then tipped over a header from Aldo Corzo in the second half as the home team held their shape in the intercontinental playoff.
All Whites midfielder Ryan Thomas had arguably the best chance but his 85th-minute shot flashed centimetres wide of the right-hand post and the sides head to Lima dead-locked for the second leg on Wednesday.
"It is a really strong result for us, big result and we are pleased with where we are at," All Whites coach Anthony Hudson told reporters. "But our feet are right on the ground.
"We haven't achieved anything yet. We still want to get to Russia. All we have to do is score one goal and that puts added pressure on them.
"We are very confident we can go there and score."
Burnley striker Chris Wood started on the New Zealand bench after coming into the camp with a hamstring injury but was subbed on with 16 minutes left as the All Whites looked for a goal.
The Peruvians, under immense pressure to qualify for a first World Cup since 1982, dominated early, with midfielder Christian Cueva and forward Jefferson Farfan causing problems for the hosts' defence.
Despite their superior possession, they had only one genuine chance in the first half when Marinovic pawed the ball away centimetres from the line after a defensive mix-up with Reid.
The Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper was also called into action in the 63rd minute when he pushed a powerful Corzo header from a corner over the bar.
Wood forced the only real save by Pedro Gallese with his first touch before Thomas had his chance to send the crowd of 37,034 into delirium when a loose ball fell to him.
His shot flashed just wide.
"We deserved a little bit more," Peru coach Ricardo Gaerca told reporters through an interpreter. "We had control of the game but couldn't score.
"The All Whites are very tough. They have a very good organisation, but we will improve. I know we can play better."
Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller