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best place to stay to experience Great Barrier Reef?

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Following my other quesitons about New Zealand, I am not focussing on the Australian part of my trip.
I will be in Sydney for some days and poss Melbourne (about 10 days), but would like to end my trip with a few days seeing the GBR. I see several locations mentioned as bases from which to see it - Cairns, Lizard Island, Airle Beach, the Thala Resort nr Port Douglas.
I dont have a huge budget (Thata is fine now, but in April the prices double to about 300 dollars/night) so Lizard Island or exclusive hidewaways arent what I want. But close to beach/activities (mainly snorkelling, not diving) are what Id like for 3-4 days. I dont have transport so would need somewhere I can get to and out of relatively easily. I would fly back to Asia (where I live) from either Brisbane or Cairns.
Failing that, if its too expensive, I may simply skip GBR and stay around Sydney and Melbourne seeing Blue Mountains etc.

Any recommendations?

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