Shane Smeltz got the Kiwis off to the best possible start with a toe-poked goal, before Vincenzo Iaquinta levelled from the penalty spot.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi will be left wondering just how they managed to come away from a match against a side ranked 78 in the world with just a point.
The New Zealand defence led by Ryan Nelsen and goalkeeper Mark Paston deserve much of the plaudits for keeping the world champions out.
Meanwhile New Zealand coach Herbert, who claimed last week's draw against Slovakia to be the best result in their history, has another major scalp to add to his list.
The Kiwis took the unlikeliest - and luckiest - of leads within seven minutes as an offside Smeltz toe-poked home after Winston Reid had flicked on Simon Elliott's through-ball.
Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro should have done much better with his attempted clearance after Reid's header, but his side had every right to feel aggrieved at Gold Coast United forward Smeltz's opener.
The Azzurri were left frustrated at the physicality of New Zealand's forwards - with Rory Fallon going into the referee's book within 10 minutes - but they did enjoy chances of their own.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini was unmarked at the Kiwis' far post after an Italy corner in the 16th minute but he thumped his chance wide of the New Zealand goal.
Then after Ricardo Montolivo's 25-yard shot had hit the post, the Italians were back level on 29 minutes thanks to Iaquinta's penalty, after Tommy Smith pulled Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi's shirt in the box.
The leveller looked to calm the Italian players' nerves, as they began to play more fluidly, keeping the ball on the ground, where they could comfortably pass their way through the crowded New Zealand midfield.
De Rossi could have added another for Italy with a curling strike on the stroke of half time, but Paston did well with a save to his right.
And he put a superb pass into Iaquinta on the hour, only for the Juventus forward to fire wide.
Paston was again on hand to keep out Montolivo in the 70th minute, diving to his right to keep out the Fiorentina man's 30-yard shot with one hand.
But Italy were left inches from total embarrassment seven minutes from time when substitute Chris Wood beat Fabio Cannavaro only to fire just wide of the far post.
Italy (4-4-2): Marchetti; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito; Pepe (Camoranesi 46), Montolivo, De Rossi, Marchisio (Pazzini 61); Iaquinta, Gilardino (Di Natale 46).
New Zealand (3-4-3): Paston; Reid, Nelsen, Vicelich; Smith, Lochhead, Bertos, Elliott; Killen, Fallon (Wood 62), Smeltz.