The stalemate was the fourth of the campaign between a South African side against New Zealand opponents, following their 22-22 draw last week in Auckland with the Blues and the draws by the Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers against the Crusaders in earlier rounds.
Josh McKay (fullback) and Waisake Nahole (wing) each scored two tries for the home side while Josh Ioane added two conversions.
The Vodacom Bulls replied with tries through Divan Rossouw, Jason Jenkins and Jaco Visagie with Handre Pollard kicking three conversions and a penalty goal.
With the score locked at 24-24, neither side refused to settle for the draw and threw everything into their desperate last efforts to land the winning score. In the end it was a handling error by the Highlanders that finally brought this exciting Round 17 match to an end.
Both teams who contributed to an action-packed first half during which each crossed the tryline three times. However, the Vodacom Bulls were a bit unlucky when Jenkins’ effort was disallowed midway through the half because of an earlier knock-on.
McKay had a lively first half for the Highlanders at fullback and he scored two tries, one each either side of Naholo’s effort. The men from Pretoria matched the attacking intent of the Otago team and they were dangerous whenever they managed to send the ball through a couple of hands.
Jenkins did however managed to get his try when he was on hand to scoop up the ball following another powerful ruck from the visitors. Earlier, Rossouw (fullback) ran onto a chip kick for a converted try.
The teams enjoyed halftime with the score at 19-14 in favour of the home side and after the break they continued where they left off. Naholo scored his second but Pollard slotted a penalty goal to keep the visiting side within range at 24-17.
However, it was the Vodacom Bulls who dominated possession and territory and they were only kept at bay by some rock solid defence. The breakthrough came five minutes from the end when Visagie (replacement hooker) took a final pass and barged his way over following a strong but patient build-up.
The Vodacom Bulls now return home for their final regulation game next Saturday, a derby in Pretoria against Gauteng neighbours the Emirates Lions while the Highlanders host the Waratahs.
Highlanders 24 (19) – Tries: Josh MacKay (2), Waisake Naholo (2). Conversions: Josh Ioane (2).
Vodacom Bulls 24 (14) – Tries: Divan Rossouw, Jason Jenkins, Jaco Visagie. Conversions: Handre Pollard (3). Penalty goal: Pollard.