A Kerikeri man has pleaded not guilty to arson after a blaze at a reserve in the Bay of Islands triggered by what firefighters described as a home-made incendiary device.

Ryan Andrew Moffat, 25, appeared in the Kaikohe District Court on March 26 on a charge stating that he "recklessly and without claim of right damaged by means of an explosive an area of bush of scrub".

The fire, on the night of January 19, started after an explosion on the beach and swept up one side of a historic pā in Rangihoua Heritage Park on Purerua Peninsula.

Moffat's lawyer, Doug Blaikie, said there was no question his client had set the explosives, then set the explosion off.

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"However, it had a result that to him was totally unexpected, and set fire to vegetation on cliff."

Blaikie questioned whether his client's actions could be described as reckless, though he conceded there was a degree of negligence and he could not escape civil liability of up to $25,000.

Blaikie indicated he would seek a Section 147, or a dismissal of the charge.

If the judge-alone trial goes ahead it is expected to last one or two days.

Prosecutor Russell Price said police expected to call 10 witnesses while Blaikie said he was likely to call one.

The case, if it does proceed, will be called again on May 29 when a pre-trial date will be set.

Seven fire appliances and about 30 firefighters from Kerikeri, Kaeo, Kaikohe, Kawakawa and Okaihau responded to the fire with cliffside hotspots doused by helicopter the following morning.

Rangihoua Heritage Park includes Rangihoua pā and the site of the first European settlement in New Zealand, and Marsden Cross, which marks the site of the first Christian service on New Zealand soil.

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The park is known for its high density of kiwi but it is not thought any of the protected birds died in the fire. Fire restrictions were in place across Northland at the time.