You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
With Ross Taylor opting against selection, Dan Vettori injured and Jesse Ryder still in self-imposed exile, New Zealand are touring the world's top side without three of their best.
But McCullum, in his first press conference in the Republic, preferred excitement over the Black Caps' young brigade to despair about the experienced trio back home.
"[Taylor] is going to be a big loss and we've got a number of big losses throughout our team at the moment," McCullum said. "It's one thing to long for those guys to be present but it's another thing to get on with the resources you've got.
"We've got some really exciting talent here, some guys we're going to find out a lot about and who are going to be exposed to some pretty extreme circumstances."
A third of the 15-man T20 squad have never pulled on the black cap, a quintet of players who thrived in the shallow water of the New Zealand domestic scene before being thrown in the deep end.
A pair of green 22-year-olds - Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham - is complemented by a trio - Mitchell McClenaghan, Colin Munro and Derek de Boorder - who have done their time in first class cricket.
They will be players completely unfamiliar to the opposition but, similarly, players who have never experienced a Dale Steyn yorker or an attacking AB de Villiers.
"We've got some exciting guys," coach Mike Hesson said. "Some of them are young, some of them have been around a bit, but they're certainly really keen to get their opportunity.
"South Africa are obviously a great side in all three formats, but we're certainly looking forward to how well we're going to play."
That great side are not without their absences, either. The Proteas have four debutants of their own for the three T20s, with Hashim Amla rested and Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy missing through injury.
McCullum thought the weakened squad, which also features a new captain in Faf du Plessis, increased New Zealand's chances of tasting victory on the tour, chances which will only diminish as the matches lengthen.
"They have got some inexperienced guys coming in, a change of captain and they're resting some of their big players. So it gives us a few positives to be able to head into the series."
One man the home side still possess is a player the Black Caps' bowlers will remember all too well from their last T20 series against South Africa.
Opener Richard Levi's devastating batting at Seddon Park earlier this year saw him smash 117 runs from 51 balls and left McCullum wary of a repeat.
"He's one of those guys who possesses the ability to take a game away from you. We've got to look at his strengths, look at his weaknesses, look at areas where we can try to attack him.
"That's the beauty of Twenty20 cricket - raw talent is on show and, in 20 overs, one guy can win a game."
- Kris Shannon of APNZ