It was their first ever win over a New Zealand side a week after they were thrashed 72-10 at home by the Waratahs.
That dismal performance lacked passion and brutally exposed their inexperience in their maiden year of Super Rugby.
But Saturday's victory - set up by outstanding loose-forward play from Luke Watson, Wimpie van der Walt and Cornell du Preez - was a complete turnaround. They were more physical, better organised and showed greater precision with their set-pieces.
Two tries from Watson and further scores by Du Preez and Shaun Venter gave the hosts a try-scoring bonus point, while the Highlanders came away with two points after they also ran in four tries via Colin Slade (two), Brad Thorn and Hosea Gear.
"We got absolutely pumped last week but it was still almost a full house tonight so a lot of credit must go to the crowd," said Kings captain Watson.
"We showed a lot of character and courage. We haven't got much to lose. We had to take some risks and it paid off,"
After taking a 6-3 lead through the boot of fly-half Demetri Catrakilis, the Kings got the opening try after Watson burrowed over.
The Highlanders hit back with a great individual try of their own, fly-half Slade chipped the ball in behind the Kings defence and collected it himself before diving over under the posts.
The momentum was with the visitors at that point and when Thorn barged over to score the Highlanders had the lead.
But they could not hold it into the break, with Watson scoring his second try from a driving maul to give the Kings a 20-17 advantage at halftime.
The home side took control of the game in the first 15 minutes of the second period with two more tries.
Good footwork from Catrakilis allowed Du Preez to go over in the corner, with Tamati Ellison sin-binned for repeated infringements in the lead-up to the try.
The bonus-point was won after a great piece of individual skill from Kings hooker Bandise Maku, who broke free into the Highlanders 22 and flicked the ball back as he was tackled into the path of Venter.
That score put the home side 17 points ahead, but there were some late jitters when Slade scored his second try and Hosea Gear got a bonus-point for the visitors to close the gap to seven.
The Highlanders had all the possession for the final five minutes of the game, but could not complete the comeback.
"We played into their strengths by giving them penalties. It is pretty frustrating but we have seven days to regroup before we play the Bulls," Highlanders captain Andrew Hore said.
- Sports & Recreation
- Luke Watson
- Colin Slade