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For landscapes, the region's west coast beaches are wonderful and rugged - Karekare beach as mentioned, and I'd add Piha to that list as well. The east coast beaches have white(r) sand and have a more tropical feel, especially the further north you get.
Coromandel is really lovely, if you can manage a somewhat uneven 30 min walk, Cathedral Cove is a very popular and beautiful spot.
3-4 hours north of Auckland is the bay of islands, another really beautiful and popular destination. Might be worth having a quick google to see if that's of interest. Water based sightseeing is popular up that way.
I'm sure Phil's intentions are good, but NZ is not known at all as being a dangerous country and like most places if you are careful & don't leave valuables in your car you should be absolutely fine. From what I've heard we (kiwis) are generally a friendly bunch! Hope you have a great trip.