When Warren Dawson named his rural Western Bay of Plenty property, he had no idea what a "bizarre" and extraordinary journey he had embarked on.

Dawson owns a subdivision at the end of Omanawa Rd. In 2006, he named it Sarona Park in honour of his grandfather who fought in World War I as part of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade.

Dawson's grandfather was put on placement in the Middle East, where Israel is now, camped out at a place named Sarona, "and he was really taken with it".

"When he came home he called his farm Sarona and from that time on we've always called our farms Sarona. So when it came to the subdivision, of course, we called it Sarona. It seemed fitting."


Dawson thought no more of the name until two weeks ago when an Israeli man and his wife got lost looking for the Kaimai Cafe. They ended up driving to Dawson's home when they spotted the name.

"They were very curious about the name and how it came about. He said he was from Israel and pretty interested."

The man, Yossi, told Dawson that also in 2006, Israeli authorities sealed off the piece of land his grandfather had camped out in and built roads, parks and buildings - also naming it Sarona Park.

Yossi explained how revered New Zealand soldiers were in Israel, especially in the Ayun Kara where he is from, nearby to Sarona. Just last year a Tauranga contingent, including deputy mayor Kelvin Clout, unveiled a memorial to the soldiers who died in the nearby Battle of Ayun Kara which Dawson's grandfather fought in during his campaign.

Yossi also told Dawson the battle and the soldiers, including Dawson's grandfather, have been captured in a book written by Tauranga man Christopher Wilson Archer.

"He said 'you have to meet this guy', so I did," Dawson said.

Archer, who met Yossi as part of the Tauranga contingent, tracked Dawson down and the men got talking, eventually going through his old chest, filled with his grandfather's letters and mementoes, including a machine gun slug and field diary which describes details of the battle which Archer wrote about. Dawson's grandfather was one of five who left to fight that day but was the only one to return.

"We were just sitting there, 100 years later, around a table, dumbfounded," Dawson said.

"It's quite emotional, to have all of that stuff there. Chris said you could make a movie out of this. It's all there. He [grandfather] had machine guns at him, snipers, bombs, shrapnel. I've always had this stuff but never known the detail or significance of it."

Dawson is now planning a trip to Israel to pay homage to his grandfather in Sarona, much to the delight of Yossi who has already headed home.

"Yossi texts saying 'you must come and stay with us'. 'The trails where your grandfather fought for us are 3 kilometres away'."

Dawson fondly remembers his grandfather, who died when Dawson was 13, as a jovial man.

"He never talked about the war, but I think he would be delighted at this," he said.

And if there weren't already enough coincidences leading Dawson to Sarona, he phoned his cousin to tell him everything about their grandfather only to discover "he'd just come back from Israel".

"This, all of this, is really, really bizarre."