Starting hooker Andrew Makalio scored a try and Rhys Marshall — Makalio's early replacement — added two more as the Highlanders scored several tries from lineouts.
In total, the Highlanders scored six tries to Moana Pasifika's two to take a bonus point from their first home win since June 2021.
Moana Pasifika was punished 16-5 in the penalty count and conceded the first seven penalties of the second half as the Highlanders took control after leading 17-10 at halftime. They also had a player sent to the sin bin in each half.
Previously the only team in the competition without a win, the Highlanders were able to take charge of the match with a kicking game which gave them field position and strong forward play which allowed them to profit from set pieces.
Their scrum won repeated penalties and their lineout set the platform for rolling mauls which led to tries.
"We had a real plan about our forwards having a big game tonight and they were outstanding," Highlanders captain Aaron Smith said. "They stayed in the fight and got us that win.
"The backs wanted to back them up through our kicking plan but the forwards really rolled their sleeves up, went to the trenches and it was outstanding."
The first half was closely contested and Moana Pasifika was able to hit back when the Highlanders scored, keeping the score close.
The Highlanders' first try came after only three minutes and from an attacking lineout. Flyhalf Mitch Hunt dodged his defenders and sent a long pass to Mosese Dawai, who dived over in the corner.
Moana Pasifika hit back quickly, first with a penalty to flyhalf Christian Leali'ifano, then with a try to Levi Aumua to take the lead for the first time.
Makalio scored in the 32nd minute to wrest back the lead for the Highlanders.
The match turned significantly on a moment just before halftime when Makalio came close to scoring again but the Highlanders escaped and halfback Smith created a second try for Dawai.
A penalty from a scrum gave the Highlanders the lineout from which Marshall scored his first try. Moana Pasifika again replied, forcing a turnover near the Highlanders line and Leali'ifano threw a pass which hung in the air and which Tima Fainga'anuku ran onto to score.
Folau Fakatava ran around an attacking maul to score the Highlanders' next try and Marshall added his second from a lineout drive to complete the victory.
Highlanders 37 Moana Pasifika 17 HT: 17-10
MOANA PASIFIKA (1-15): Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Luteru Tolai, Sekope Kepu (c), Veikoso Poloniati, Samuel Slade, Solomone Funaki, Alamanda Motuga, Penitoa Finau, Ereatara Enari, Christian Leali'ifano, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Danny Toala, Levi Aumua, Tima Fainga’anuku, William Havili
RESERVES: Samiuela Moli, Abraham Pole, Chris Apoua, Mahonri Ngakuru, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Jonathan Taumateine, Lincoln McClutchie, Fine Inisi
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Jono Bredin