The Highlanders have finished the Super Rugby regular season in second place in the New Zealand conference after a pulsating 25-15 win over previous leaders the Chiefs.
The result means the defending champions, who have been in Port Elizabeth and Buenos Aires over the previous two weekends, will avoid another long-haul trip next week.
They had faced the prospect of having to return to South Africa, but are set to travel across the Tasman in the first round of the playoffs.
Their win in Dunedin on Saturday night also means the Hurricanes, who beat the Crusaders 35-10 with a bonus point earlier in the day, top the New Zealand conference and will host a quarter-final.
The Highlanders’ victory extended their winning streak over the Chiefs to six matches.
The intense and physical contest ended in a touch a controversy with five-eighth Lima Sopoaga’s try that effectively sealed the win seven minutes to go.
The ball had gone loose from centre Matt Faddes’ hands, but it was ruled to have been knocked from his grasp by the tackler, before Sopoaga swooped.
The Chiefs would have finished as the NZ conference leaders had they won and they struck first through winger Toni Pulu.
They were then called on to do plenty of defence and they scrambled well before winger Waisake Naholo came up with a piece of magic.
Naholo had earlier touched down under the crossbar only to called back for obstruction.
But with half an hour gone and the Highlanders having pounded away for 15 phases, the All Blacks’ flyer produced a spectacular a one-handed diving put-down in the corner.
Sopoaga missed the sideline conversion and the Highlanders went into halftime trailing 7-5.
The two sides traded penalties early in the second half to maintain the two-point margin.
Chiefs flanker Tom Sanders was then yellow-carded for a lifting tackle on opposition fullback Ben Smith and the Highlanders took advantage.
Sopoaga added another penalty before flanker Dan Pryor scored from a brilliant counter-attack that involved several pairs of hands.
Back to 15 players, the Chiefs struck back with a try to loose forward Lachlan Boshier.