In an emotional home-coming before a sellout crowd of 17,500, the Crusaders outscored the Cheetahs three tries to two to open their new fortress with only their second win of the season from four outings.
It was not champagne rugby and the Cheetahs cut down the Crusaders 15-point lead early in the second half to be on level terms at 21-21 with 10 minutes remaining.
But as the clock counted down the Crusaders moved up a gear and Andy Ellis and Tom Taylor both went within a whisker of scoring before Israel Dagg crossed for the match-winning try.
Captain Kieran Read was happy to end a two-match run of defeats but was disappointed the game went down to the wire after the Crusaders led 18-3 soon after halftime.
"We got off to good start at the start of the second half but we let the foot off the throat in a few key areas. We thought it would come a bit too easy so we needed to look after the ball a bit more," he said.
A critical factor for the Crusaders was the pack with an All Blacks front row of hooker Corey Flynn and props Owen and Ben Franks who gave the Cheetahs a torrid time in the scrums.
It was from a scrum penalty just before half-time that led to the first try in the new stadium when Sean Maitland scored in the corner.
Until then it had been an uninspiring encounter with two penalties to Taylor and one by Johan Goosen the only points on the board.
But Maitland's try lifted the intensity of the game with the Crusaders going into halftime with an 11-3 lead which was extended to 18-3 immediately after the break when All Blacks star Carter entered the fray.
With his first touch of the ball in a game since being injured out of the World Cup six months ago, Carter neatly put Robbie Fruean into a gap and the big centre scored near the posts.
Taylor converted and with their tails up the Crusaders immediately stormed deep into Cheetahs' territory only to cede control to the South Africans.
From turnover ball on their own line the Cheetahs swept the length of the field with Goosen, Andries Strauss and Willie le Roux all featuring in the move before Goosen entered the frame for a second time to score in the corner.
Another exchange of penalties between Goosen and Taylor had the Crusaders leading 21-11 when the Cheetahs were rewarded for a patient build up with a try by Robert Ebersohn.
Goosen missed the conversion but evened the score with his third penalty forcing the Crusaders to lift their game in the closing stages.
They mounted a wave of forward drives up to the Cheetahs line, drawing in the defence before Ellis sent the ball wide for Dagg to cross unopposed for the match-winning try.
CRUSADERS 28 (Israel Dagg, Robert Fruean, Sean Maitland tries Tom Taylor 2 cons 3 pens) bt CHEETAHS 21 (Robert Ebersohn, Johan Goosen tries Goosen con 3 pens) at Christchurch Stadium.