Without head coach Jess Thirlby, who was forced to miss the tour after she tested positive for coronavirus, England came up short against the world champions in what was their first competitive match since March.
New Zealand led by five goals at the end of the first quarter, but the shooting of Eleanor Cardwell and 18 points from George Fisher kept England in contention.
England co-captain Laura Malcolm said: “There were some moments of really good stuff from us in attack, but I guess it is just inconsistency.
"But really great work from the defence to get some turnovers and get us some opportunities for goals.”
England’s squad includes seven players with fewer than 10 caps and is missing several of their experienced Australia-based players.
“I do not feel like you could separate the inexperience from the experience there,” added Malcolm. “It was really great to have the youngsters on and to see them step up.”
The next match is on Friday, before the final game on Sunday.